Pro-democracy activists Lee Cheuk-yan and Tsang Kin-shing appeared in court on Tuesday over the releasing of a balloon during a New Year's Day protest, with Tsang receiving a fine after pleading guilty and Lee to be put on trial.
Prosecutors told Eastern Court that police had repeatedly warned the pair that setting the metre-long balloon loose could affect air traffic safety.
They were on Legislative Council Road in Admiralty – an area with controlled airspace where the chief executive's permission is required to fly objects.
When police told the two men that they needed to look at the balloon, Tsang took it from Lee's hands and let it go. It flew up into the sky, even higher than CITIC Tower, and then disappeared from view, prosecutors said.
The balloon had a banner attached which read “release political prisoners”.
Tsang admitted the offence, saying he had made a mistake in a moment of desperation. He was fined HK$2,500.
But Lee pleaded not guilty to the charge and a separate allegation of obstructing a police officer.
The veteran democrat, who is already serving prison terms for other protest-related offences, is expected to return to court on September 9.
Before being escorted out of the courtroom, a spirited Lee shouted “miss you all!” to dozens of friends and relatives who came to attend the hearing.
One of Lee's supporters shouted “brother Yan, hang in there!”.
The veteran democrat also managed to give his wife a high five, as security guards hustled him out.
Speaking to reporters outside court, Tsang accused the government of using all means possible to prosecute dissenters and of using the gathering ban to bar people from expressing their views peacefully.
He said since civic groups had not been allowed to hold a rally on January 1 this year, he could only fly a balloon to express Hong Kong people’s care for political prisoners.