April 9 (UPI) -- Nine pro-democracy activists were found guilty Tuesday on public nuisance charges for their role in organizing the 2014 "Umbrella Movement" protests, Hong Kong's largest civil disobedience movement in history.
The nine defendants were tried over their involvement in the 79-day mass protests that were ignited by public anger over China's oppressive restrictions for the island's election of its chief executive, South China Morning Post reported.
Of the nine activists convicted by the West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts Tuesday are three founders of the "Occupy Central" campaign: legal scholar Benny Tai Yiu-ting, professor Chan Kin-man and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming.
Student leaders Eason Chung Yiu-wa and Tommy Cheung Sau-yin, political party leaders Raphael Wong Ho-ming and Lee Wing-tat and lawmakers Tanya Chan and Shiu Ka-chun were also found guilty.
They each face up to seven years in prison.
During the trial, which began in December, prosecutors argued the defendants became an "unreasonable obstruction" through clogging up roads during the protests and that they had incited public unrest.
The defendants argued that their occupation of the streets was peaceful civil disobedience and the public was inspired to join the protests after the police and government used force to disperse them, Hong Kong Free Press reported.
The protest came to be known as the "Umbrella Movement" as the umbrella was the only tool able to protect the protesters from tear gas and pepper spray used against them by the authorities.
Amnesty International condemned the verdict as a "crushing blow" against the freedom of expression and peaceful protest while saying the government used "vague charges" to persecute the nine defendants.
"The government is increasingly using prosecution as a political tool to target peaceful activists, abusing the law to silence debate about sensitive issues such as Hong Kong democracy and autonomy," Amnesty International Hong Kong Director Tam Man-kei said in a statement. "We urge the government to cease this chilling assault against people legitimately exercising their right to freedom of expression."
Defandent Tai said in his closing submission that he will continue to stand for civil disobedience.
"This is a case about some Hong Kong people who love Hong Kong very much and believe that only through the introduction of genuine universal suffrage could a door be opened to resolving the deep-seated conflicts in Hong Kong," he said. "I am one of those Hong Kong people. With all people who share the same democratic dream, we have waited for more than 30 years for our constitutional rights."
The protests began over China's decision to only allow pre-approved candidates to run for the former British colony's top government position, which is in opposition to many Hong Kong citizens who say they have to right to elect their own leaders, BBC reported.