Around 100 protesters gathered before a Hong Kong court in a show of support to a group of pro-democracy activists who started their trial on Monday. The activists are facing charges related to the 2014 protests against Beijing’s screening of political candidates in the former British colony.

As the defendants approached the courtroom, the protesters greeted the group by waving yellow umbrellas and chanting “I want universal suffrage.” The activists responded by pumping their fists in the air and shouting “Shame to political persecution” before entering the magistrates court.

The defendants include three key leaders of the “Occupy Central” movement which helped coordinate a blockade of Hong Kong’s business center and the city’s major roads in 2014. Professors Benny Tai and Chan Kin-man, as well as retired pastor Chu Yiu-Ming, eventually merged their activities with the wider student protest movement, which laid siege to local government headquarters for 79 days to ensure free elections.

Protesters chant before court (Getty Images/A. Kwan)

Around 100 protesters came out in support of the defendants

More trouble ahead?

The three now face charges of conspiracy to commit public nuisance, incitement to commit public nuisance and incitement to incite public nuisance. If convicted, they might face up to seven years in jail.

Prosecutor Andrew Bruce told the court that the activists support the demos by “unlawful obstruction of public places and blocking key roads.”

Chu, Benny, and Chan pleaded not guilty.

In a separate trial two years ago, Chinese authorities ruled that three student leaders perform community service for their role in the protests. However, Beijing has since increased pressure on the judges. The outcome of the latest trial might have far-reaching consequences for any future cases involving protesters.

The group of defendants also includes two lawmakers and two other student leaders.

‘Prepared to walk this path’

On Wednesday evening, Professor Chan gave a farewell talk at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he had been teaching sociology for over 20 years.

“So long as we are not crushed by imprisonment and trial and do not become overly frustrated and angry, then we will become stronger and we can inspire many more people,” he told the audience of some 600 people. “Only in the darkest hours, we can see the stars.”

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Chan also told the AFP news agency that he had prepared for the exertions and stress of possible jail time by taking up marathon running.

Baptist minister Chu said that all three of Occupy Central leaders were prepared to walk on this path.”

“We were always willing to be sacrificed in order to wake up the people,” the pastor said.

dj/ng (Reuters, dpa, AFP)