Cardinal stands up for protesters

Local | Jane Cheung 6 Dec 2018

It was unwise for police to fire tear gas at Occupy protesters, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun said while testifying in the trial of nine Occupy activists yesterday.

He was summoned as a defense witness on the 12th day of the trial at West Kowloon Magistrates' Court.

The three Occupy Central co-founders - Benny Tai Yiu-ting, 54, Chan Kin-man, 59, and the Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, 74 - face charges of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance, inciting others to cause a public nuisance and inciting people to incite others to cause a public nuisance during the 79-day Occupy Movement.

Appearing before Judge Johnny Chan Jong-herng yesterday, Zen, 86, said civil disobedience was a suitable means to fight for universal suffrage in Hong Kong.

Police using tear gas to control and disperse the crowd was an imprudent move that further provoked angry citizens.

Zen recalled he was trapped among the crowd on Tim Mei Avenue when tear gas was fired. While he could near noises, he was not hit by the gas.

"I'm ashamed. I haven't faced pepper spray or tear gas," he said.

He was worried that the crowd would cause havoc after the police used more violent tactics, and requested the speaker to ask protesters to disperse and return home. However, many people did not heed his call.

Zen said police sealed off Civic Square before firing tear gas, which led to the situation where citizens arriving in support of students could not enter the square. Instead, they were forced to stand behind police officers blocking the area, leading to citizens being surrounded by police.

He criticized the arrangement and said the senior management of the police put officers in a dangerous position.

"There were more protesters than policemen, and it's a threatening situation for officers," he said.

Zen said he went to Tim Mei Avenue twice on September 27, the day when students stayed overnight at the government's headquarters at Civic Square in Admiralty. But he left before midnight.

Zen defended the Occupy trio, saying protesters did not lose control because they were taught to occupy with love and peace.

He said protesters even gave police officers a round of applause when they left the area without making any arrests early in the morning on September 29.

Aside from Tai, Chan and Chu, the other defendants include lawmakers Tanya Chan, 47, and Bottle Shiu Ka-chun, 48; vice-chairman of the League of Social Democrats Raphael Wong Ho-ming, 30; former Hong Kong Federation of Students members Tommy Cheung Sau-yin, 24, and Eason Chung Yiu-wa, 25; and ex-lawmaker Lee Wing-tat, 62.

The hearing continues today.

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