Three leaders of Hong Kong's 2014 civil disobedience "Occupy" movement pleaded not guilty to public nuisance charges at a packed court in the Chinese-ruled city on Monday where more than 100 protesters rallied in support of the activists.
Law professor Benny Tai, 54, sociology professor Chan Kin-man, 59, and retired pastor Chu Yiu-ming, 74, face three charges of conspiracy to commit public nuisance, incitement to commit public nuisance, and incitement to incite public nuisance.
Each charge carries a maximum jail term of seven years. Six others are also charged in a case that comes as the financial hub's civil liberties are coming under increasing strain.
Supporters cheered and clapped as the democracy activists entered the packed courtroom, with Tai, Chan and Chu all wearing black jackets.
Another defendant, Raphael Wong, said while pleading not guilty to one charge: "I want universal suffrage".
The nine stood defiantly before the court as they decried what some called "political persecution" for what was conceived as a peaceful civil disobedience campaign.
Chan announced last week that he would take early retirement from the Chinese University of Hong Kong to avoid the risk of being fired should he be jailed. Tai told Reuters he hoped the trial would be an opportunity to "reboot the spirit of the people".