Nine Hong Kong pro-democracy activists found guilty over 2014 protests

HONG KONG

(Reuters) – A Hong Kong court found leaders of the 2014 “Occupy” civil disobedience movement guilty on Tuesday of public nuisance charges during the mass protests, in a landmark verdict that comes as the China-ruled city’s freedoms come under strain.

Scores of supporters clapped in support of the nine defendants including a law professor, two lawmakers and former student activists, after the judge delivered his verdict following a trial that critics say highlights shrinking political freedoms in the former British colony.

Three of the defendants accused of playing a leading role in planning and mobilising supporters during the 79-day street occupations in 2014 – Benny Tai, 54; Chan Kin-man, 60; and retired pastor Chu Yiu-ming, 75; were found guilty of conspiracy to commit public nuisance.

Tai and Chan were also found guilty of incitement to commit public nuisance. They appeared calm after the verdict was delivered, and Chan bowed to supporters, applauding them outside the court. The trio had pleaded not guilty to all charges, which each carry a maximum seven years jail.

Tai, speaking to Reuters earlier, said they would continue the struggle for full democracy.

“The reason that we committed civil disobedience is because we want justice for Hong Kong people.”

In a summary of his judgement, Justice Johnny Chan noted that while the concept of civil disobedience is “recognized in Hong Kong”, it wasn’t a defense to a criminal charge.

“The offence of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance does not have the undesirable effect of curtailing or suppressing civil disobedience at its formation stage or suppressing human rights as the defendants contended,” the summary read.

Since the city returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997, critics say China has reneged on its commitment to maintain Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and freedoms under a co-called “one country, two systems” arrangement.

In the nearly five years since the Occupy protests, democracy activists, diplomats and business leaders have expressed grave concerns over what they say is Beijing’s tightening grip on the city’s freedoms.or 79 straight days in late 2014, in one of the boldest populist

“NAIVE”

The nine defendants were accused of inciting and mobilizing protesters during the demonstrations that sought to pressure Beijing to allow full democracy.

Hundreds of thousands of people blocked major roads in several parts of the global financial hub for 79 straight days in late 2014, in one of the boldest populist challenges against Beijing in decades.

The demonstrators were finally cleared away by police, having won no democratic concessions from the government.

David Leung, the director of public prosecutions, had earlier argued that Tai, Chan and Chu were the main conspirators who had begun planning the protests a year in advance. He also said the protests had caused “unreasonable” public disruptions over nearly three months.

A public opinion poll by the Chinese University of Hong Kong that was cited in court found that of some 1,200 protesters polled during the demonstrations, 87 percent said they had participated to “protect Hong Kong’s liberty”.

The 268 page judgment noted, however, that: “it is naive to suggest that a concession to introduce the form of universal suffrage … could be made by the government overnight with a click of the fingers, it is equally naive to suggest a mass protest of tens of thousands of people could be dispersed overnight even if a positive response were to come from the authorities.”

Reporting by James Pomfret and Jessie Pang; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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Hong Kong launches new extradition laws despite opposition | News | Al Jazeera

Hong Kong’s leaders have launched laws to change extradition rules to allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial, standing fast against growing opposition to a move that many fear could further erode the city’s legal protections.

According to the laws presented to the Legislative Council on Wednesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam would have the right to order the extradition of wanted offenders to China, Macau and Taiwan as well as other countries not covered by Hong Kong’s existing extradition treaties.

The bill was introduced following a case last year when a local man allegedly killed his pregnant girlfriend while on holiday in Taiwan, but could not be extradited as Taipei and Hong Kong do not share an extradition agreement.

Within Hong Kong, the law has raised concerns from the business community and human rights groups.

Former Democratic Party leader Emily Lau said that, even with the promised safeguards, ordinary people in Hong Kong would still find extradition to mainland China unacceptable.

“Many Hong Kong people have no trust or confidence in the Chinese judicial system,” she told the government-funded radio station RTHK. Fair trials were not possible on the mainland, she said.

Hong Kong’s Bar Association took issue with multiple aspects of the revised bill, maintaining that it did not support the bill despite revisions.

“This restriction against any surrender arrangements with the rest of [China], whether under a long-term formal arrangement or case-based arrangements, is not a ‘loophole,’ as repeatedly, and in our view, misleadingly, asserted by the senior government officials on various occasions and now in the LegCo Brief,” a statement by the body read.

Over the weekend, thousands took to the streets to protest the laws, joining an unusually broad chorus of concern from international business elites to rights’ groups and even some pro-establishment figures.

But Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Lam had said her government would make no further amendments before introducing the laws to the city’s parliament.

Small groups of protesters, supporting the government’s bill, briefly faced off against opponents outside the Council but later dispersed without incident.

Opponents of the changes fear further erosion of freedoms and legal protections in the free-wheeling financial hub – rights which were guaranteed under the city’s handover from British colonial rule to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.via Hong Kong launches new extradition laws despite opposition | News | Al Jazeera

Hong Kong bans Boeing 737 MAX flights – World – The Jakarta Post

Hong Kong on Wednesday barred Boeing 737 MAX airliners from its airspace, the latest in a series of government bans worldwide in the wake of a deadly plane crash in Ethiopia.

Despite Boeing’s assurances in the wake of the disaster, the European Union, Britain and India joined China and other countries grounding the plane or banning it from their airspace as they await the results of the crash investigation.

The semi-autonomous Chinese city’s Civil Aviation Department (CAD) said it was imposing a temporary suspension from 6 pm local time (1000 GMT) on Wednesday until further notice on “operation of Boeing B737 MAX aircraft into, out of and over Hong Kong”.

The ban is “solely a precautionary measure to ensure aviation safety and protect the public”, a CAD spokesman added.

The department added it had been in close contact in the past few days with the US Federal Aviation Administration and relevant organisations, including two airlines — India’s SpiceJet and Globus Airlines of Russia — that have recently used the 737 MAX for flights to Hong Kong.

SpiceJet had defended the jet on Tuesday, describing it as a “highly sophisticated aircraft”.

Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific does not have any 737 MAX aircraft in its fleet.

On Sunday, a new Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8 went down minutes into a flight to Nairobi, killing all 157 people on board.

The crash came after a Lion Air jet of the same model went down in Indonesia in October, claiming 189 lives.

Several airlines have grounded the MAX 8s in their fleets, but many others are continuing to fly the plane pending an investigation into the crash and possible guidance from Boeing itself.

via Hong Kong bans Boeing 737 MAX flights – World – The Jakarta Post

China unveils timeline to further integrate Hong Kong, Macau under Greater Bay Area plan – The Straits Times

HONG KONG – Chinese authorities have unveiled the timeline to further integrate Hong Kong and Macau into the mainland under the ambitious Greater Bay Area plan to create a cluster of world-class cities in southern China.

An 11-chapter document released on Monday night (Feb 18) by the central committee of the Chinese Communist Party stated that the 11 cities in the plan would boost collaboration by 2022 in areas including the central pillar of science and technology, intellectual property rights and even ecological conservation.

By 2035, the region would have developed an economic system largely driven by innovation.

The plan involves linking 11 cities in the Pearl River delta area within a two-hour radius of Hong Kong. It comprises Hong Kong, Macau, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Dongguan, Huizhou, Zhongshan, Foshan, Zhaoqing and Jiangmen.

Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Macau were identified by Beijing as core engines for driving growth in nearby regions.

The road map calls for Hong Kong to build on its status as an international financial, transportation and trade hub.

The city would focus on offshore yuan, international asset management and risk management, as well as developing innovation and technology industries.

Beijing also outlined its support for Hong Kong becoming the hub for international legal and dispute resolution services in the Asia-Pacific region.

Read the full article via China unveils timeline to further integrate Hong Kong, Macau under Greater Bay Area plan, East Asia News & Top Stories – The Straits Times

Hong Kong economic activity experiences significant slowdown as duties and uncertainty weigh on markets

Photo by Ryan McManimie on Unsplash

HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s economy stalled last year as the ongoing China-US trade dispute and retail woes dragged on local business, the city’s financial chief said Sunday (Feb 17).

Beijing and Washington have already imposed duties on more than US$360 billion in two-way trade, roiling global financial markets and weighing heavily on manufacturing output in both countries.

“The impact of China-US trade frictions on Hong Kong’s exports has clearly emerged at the end of last year,” said finance secretary Paul Chan.

Economic growth in the semi-autonomous Chinese city for the last quarter of 2018 was less than 1.5 per cent — the weakest since the first quarter of 2016 and a “significant slowdown” from the average growth rate of 3.7 per cent in the first three quarters, Chan wrote on his official blog.

The slowdown brought last year’s growth rate to an estimated three percent, down from the higher-than-forecast 3.8 per cent recorded in 2017, he added.

“It was almost ‘zero-growth’ for commodities exports in the fourth quarter, which was a sharp drop compared to the average 6 per cent growth in the first three quarters,” he wrote.

Chan said consumer sentiment had also dampened with retail sales rising only 2.1 per cent year-on-year in the fourth quarter, a far cry from the more than 12 per cent increase in the first half of the year.

The external political and economic situation remains unclear … Therefore, we repeatedly stress the need to support enterprises, safeguard employment, stabilize the economy and benefit people’s livelihoods,” he wrote, hinting at the ongoing trade negotiations between the world’s top two economies.

Paul Chan is expected to deliver the Hong Kong budget on Feb 27.

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Slowest economic growth in two years expected amid US-China trade war and weak retail, Hong Kong finance chief Paul Chan says

 

A year after Tai Po bus crash which killed 19, Hong Kong’s KMB to boost safety | South China Morning Post

Hong Kong’s biggest bus company will bring in a range of security measures from this year including anti-drowsiness devices for drivers, it revealed on Friday, as the first anniversary of one of the city’s deadliest crashes neared.

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KMB also promised to look into cutting “special shifts” for drivers from a maximum of 14 hours to 13, two months after an independent review committee handed 45 safety recommendations to the government.

The Transport Department revised the guidelines last February, just after a KMB bus crashed in Tai Po, killing 19 people. It was Hong Kong’s deadliest bus accident in nearly 15 years, sparking questions over whether operators had sufficient training, support and management.

Despite the new guidelines saying maximum daily hours should be cut from 14 to 12, concerns were raised as a special shift still allowed drivers to work up to 14 hours a day, with a mandatory three-hour break.

Patrick Pang Shu-hung, the company’s deputy operations director, said the new guidelines on drivers’ working hours, rest time and meal breaks would come in on April 30. The review of special shifts would come after that.

“We really want to reduce it from 14 hours to 13. This is also our final goal. I hope we can do it as soon as possible,” Pang said on Friday.

Last month transport authorities pledged to look into introducing new laws to improve bus drivers’ working conditions, and take tougher action against abusive passengers, as part of a safety overhaul recommended by the independent review committee, convened after the Tai Po tragedy.

Other key recommendations included providing funding for franchised bus operators to promote new safety technology as well as requiring buses to provide real-time alerts of excessive speeding.

Jones Wong Kin-fai, a deputy operations director at KMB, said all of its about 4,300 buses would be fitted with alert systems for excessive speeding this year.

A computer program that makes buses slow down if they go beyond the speed limit is expected to be tested as early as July and be on some buses by 2020.

Wong said the company was testing an anti-drowsiness device on buses. The tool can read a driver’s facial expression and sound an alarm or make the driver’s seat vibrate when it looks like they are dropping off.

The system was slated to be introduced on vehicles in phases from as soon as the third quarter of this year.

Meanwhile, about 85 new buses equipped with technology making them slow down when they tilt would arrive in Hong Kong around May.

Tearful crash victim recalls seeing employer underneath school bus

Wong said KMB planned to add top-deck seat belts to more than 1,000 of its buses in the next two to three years.

Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho, deputy chairman of the Legislative Council’s transport panel, said the measures were signs of progress, but asked why they came – as he saw it – so late.

“The stability system and the anti-drowsiness device are not new technologies and they have been available for a long time. So it’s better than nothing, but why are they being implemented this late?” he said.

via A year after Tai Po bus crash which killed 19, Hong Kong’s KMB to boost safety | South China Morning Post