A Swiss photographer went on trial in Hong Kong on Wednesday charged with public disorder, with prosecutors accusing him of enabling an assault on a Chinese mainlander during last year’s democracy protests.
Marc Progin, a long-time Hong Kong resident, pleaded not guilty to “aiding and abetting public disorder”, a charge which could see him jailed for up to a year.
Four months into the huge and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests that swept through Hong Kong last year, Progin, 74, was photographing an altercation outside the offices of American bank JP Morgan Chase.
On October 4, JP Morgan employee Lin Nan was surrounded by angry pro-democracy protesters as he declared “we are all Chinese” — one of the many ideological clashes between residents that exploded onto the streets during the unrest.
In video footage that went viral, Progin could be seen closing the door to the bank in order to better photograph the unfolding events, closing off Lin’s exit route.
Seconds later the banker was punched repeatedly by a masked protester, who has not been caught.
The footage sparked widespread anger in mainland China and Hong Kong officials brought a prosecution against Progin.
“The defendant dashed forward and deliberately closed the door, enabling the crowds to surround (the banker),” lead prosecutor Kelvin Tang said in an opening statement on Tuesday.
In an interview with Swiss television station RTS on Sunday, Progin said he was simply photographing the events unfolding in front of him.
“That day I was the only foreigner there photographing and so I don’t know what the police thought of that,” he said.
He noted that foreigners often faced accusations of “meddling in Hong Kong affairs” during the protests.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post three years ago, Progin said he moved to Hong Kong in 1976 and forged a career as a watchmaker, frequently travelling in the region, including inside China.
After retirement he became an adventurer and photographer with multiple exhibitions, particularly on the nomadic cultures of Mongolia.
Hong Kong was punctured by seven straight months of pro-democracy protests last year, upending the business hub’s reputation for safety and stability.
Millions of local residents peacefully hit the streets as anger towards Beijing’s rule exploded, with clashes between more hardcore protesters and police becoming a near daily occurrence.
Vicious street fights routinely broke out between people on opposing sides of the political divide.
Authorities responded with a crackdown, arresting more than 10,000 people and bringing multiple prosecutions against leading pro-democracy figures.
Beijing also imposed a draconian national security law on Hong Kong in late June, describing it as a “sword” that would now hang over the heads of its critics.