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Hong Kong activists appear in court
[HONG KONG] Nine Hong Kong democracy activists appeared in court Thursday over the Umbrella Movement mass protests in a case they have criticised as political persecution.
The group of campaigners, including students and lawmakers, were charged one day after pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam was selected as city leader Sunday by a committee skewed towards the mainland camp.
Their case comes as fears grow that semi-autonomous Hong Kong's freedoms are increasingly under threat from Chinese authorities.
It also precedes an expected visit by China's president Xi Jinping in July to mark the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong back to China by Britain in 1997.
The nine activists, ranging in ages from 22 to 73-years-old, were charged with either conspiring to cause public nuisance or inciting others to do so in relation to the 2014 protests, which called for fully free leadership elections.
They could face up to seven years in prison.
Their case was adjourned to May 25 after a brief hearing in magistrates' court, during which the defence requested a High Court jury trial so that the public could participate in the decision.
They have yet to enter a plea.
Rival protesters from the pro-democracy and pro-China camps faced off outside the court, chanting at each other.
Some pro-China supporters slapped a picture of activist Benny Tai with a pink plastic slipper, mimicking a local custom practised by some residents where a shoe is used to beat an image of an enemy.
Speaking outside court, Mr Tai told reporters the activists would not give up on the fight for democracy in Hong Kong.
"I believe our society is steeped with the spirit of civil disobedience," said Mr Tai, co-founder of Occupy Central, one of the groups behind the 2014 Umbrella Movement rallies.
"We won't give up until Hong Kong has real democracy and real universal suffrage," he added.
Rights group Amnesty International condemned the charges, saying the case showed the city's freedom of expression and right to peaceful assembly was "under a sustained attack".
New leader Ms Lam has promised to try to unify divided Hong Kong, but opponents said the court case immediately undermined that pledge.
Sunday's vote was dismissed as a sham by democracy campaigners who say Ms Lam will be no different from unpopular current chief executive, Leung Chun Ying.