HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Nine people who were arrested at the TMT protest on Mauna Kea last month appeared in court in Hilo on Friday to plead not guilty.
In total, 38 people were arrested on July 17 for blocking Mauna Kea Access Road during protests against construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.
Separate court dates have been set for the remaining protesters who were taken into custody.
One of the individuals who appeared in court Friday included Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Carmen Hulu Lindsey, who represents Maui.
Lindsey declined to comment after the hearing.
But others did speak.
“I am not guilty of being on Hawaiian land,” said activist Edleen Peleiholani.
“Because the kupuna sat there in love for the people, the moopuna, the mauna and for the whole word. We are the people of aloha,” she added outside of court," she added after the hearing.
Authorities arrested the kupuna as gently as possible, but they say they were forced to stop making arrests as the protest quickly grew. Images of the arrests inspired many more activists, including celebrities, to visit the mountain.
The defendants are charged with obstruction, which is a petty misdemeanor with maximum sentence of 30 days in jail and $1000 fine.
“They knowingly or recklessly obstruct that is render it impassable without unreasonable inconvenience or hazard,” said deputy prosecutor Kimberly Angay.
Attorney Moani Crowell, who is one of several attorneys who’s working pro bono on the cases, countered: “We look forward to vigorously defending their constitutional and state rights. We are adamant in their innocence and we believe justice will prevail."
The state has said the Thirty Meter Telescope has the legal right to build after passing more than a decade of legal review including the Hawaii State Supreme Court.
Outside the Hilo courthouse Friday, a large crowd gathered, including TMT opponent Kahookahi Kanuha. He says they will continue to stand against TMT until it leaves Hawaii.
“We want our kupuna to know that we stand with them we support them. We mahalo them,” he said.
Meanwhile, protests continue at the base of Mauna Kea. Those who are blocking the only access road to the summit say the $1.4 billion telescope project is desecration to a place they consider sacred.