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Hong Kong protest leaders warn of threat to civil rights

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Still fighting for what they call “a real universal suffrage”,

pro-democracy supporters rally outside a Hong Kong courthouse before the trial of nine activists begins.

Among them, the three organizers behind the 2014 Occupy Central movement.

Chu Yiu-ming, Benny Tai and Chan Kin-man planned a civil disobedience campaign in the city’s central business district,

occupying the streets to demand free elections in the semi-autonomous city,

where the Chief Executive is appointed by a pro-Beijing committee.

The campaign became a part of the larger pro-democracy Umbrella Movement.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters blocked the city center for 79 days.

Police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators and stifled the movement with mass arrests.

The nine activists have pleaded not guilty to the charges of public nuisance.

Chan says their hearing could set a legal precedent for many more.

“It means that it can cover 1 million people, of course, it will include all the pro-democracy leaders in Hong Kong,

so once our case is established, they can use this case to purge the hold oppositional force in Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong has enjoyed greater freedoms than in mainland China since the handover from British rule in 1997,

but Beijing is tightening its grip: banning democracy activists from standing for local elections

and disqualifying opposition lawmakers from Parliament.

Rights groups fear civil liberties are deteriorating.

Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, maintains that she defends press freedom,

but is against those who advocate for independence.

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