Timmy Lu LA delegate in HK Court on Jan. 11
I am reporting great news from Hong Kong. At a hearing earlier today at Kwun Tong Courthouse in Kowloon, Hong Kong, the 14 remaining political prisoners have been released and are all on their way home to their respective countries to pass the New Year. All charges were dropped on 11 of the protesters, while the remaining three Korean farmers have plead not guilty to charges of unlawful assembly and acting in a threatening manner towards police officers.
As you may already know, the farmers have been on a hunger strike for the last seven days, and the Hong Kong People's Alliance organized a twenty-four hour solidarity fast starting yesterday in front of Kwun Tong Courthouse, culminating with today's hearing. The day began with program starting at noon until 2 PM consisting of speeches from the strikers, their families and from international supporters, as well as musical performaces including the Cantonese version of the Korean peasant's song.
Supporters of the prisoners filled the courtroom at 2:30 PM when the hearing was scheduled. Over 200 supporters packed the courtroom, leaving standing room only and spilling into the lobby. The aisles were filled with protesters wearing red headbands in support, including many who had participated earlier in the twenty-four hour fast and had camped out the night before in front of the courthouse with the Korean farmers. As the prisoners entered the courtroom, the crowd chanted "Release now!", "Down Down WTO", and "Drop All Charges". Lawyers for the prosecution were heckled by demands by protestors to drop the charges. Supporters included concerned individuals, academics, union members, students, representatives from international solidarity missions, the family of the prisoners, and local Hong Kong residents (ranging from the elderly to middle school students).
After several delays, the hearing proceeded at 4:30 PM. The prosecution dropped all charges against 11 of the protesters, including all of the non-Korean international protesters. The remaining three are all Korean nationals. At first one of the farmers plead not guilty, another guilty, and a third partial guilt to charges of unlawful assembly and acting threatening towards police. The third farmer protested the inclusion of "background information" in the charges that did not specifically relate to the actions of the demonstrator in question. This included information on the actions of other "unidentified protestors". The defense argued that this information had nothing to do with the actions of the protestor and should be stricken from the charges. The prosecution disagreed, and the judge recommended that the issue be resolved in trial.
The three remaining defendants all changed their plea to "not guilty,"where the case currently stands. The three protesters were released on $30,000 HKD bail each, under arrangement with the Archbishop of Hong Kong. When the judged asked if this amount was to come from the personal savings of the protestors, the defense lawyer responded that funds would not because the defendant is now bankrupt because of the WTO. The trial is now set for the week of March 1-7, 2006 at a courthouse more central to Kowloon City. The three remaining protestors are now free to return to Korea.
After a brief press conference, the farmers returned to their tent in front of the courthouse to pack their belongings and return to Korea. The farmers were greeted with flowers from local supporters and after a short rally, we began clean up the encampment and pack up the equipment.
I spoke with members of the international solidarity missions, who expressed the importance of global pressure on the Chinese embassies throughout the world in ensuring that the charges were dropped on almost all of the prisoners and that they can now return home to pass the New Year with their families. The sense that I got from the local demonstrators is that "We will be back!" and that people were already making arrangements to show their support when the remaining three farmers return to face trial in March.
Though the struggle continues against the WTO and imperialist globalization, there was a clear sense that the dropped charges and the release came about through an international people's movement to release the prisoners and stop the WTO.
Timmy Lu, writing from Kowloon, Hong Kong Los Angeles Delegation to the WTO January 11, 2006
Down Down WTO!