HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Twenty-eight of the 38 people arrested on Mauna Kea during the first week of the Thirty Meter Telescope protest in July made their first appearances in court Friday.
And it’s clear the legal battles — just from these arrests ― will be long and complicated.
All 28 in court Friday pleaded not guilty. And attorneys for several defendants said they were basing their not guilty pleas on their right to freedom of religion, which is protected under the Constitution.
In a Hilo courtroom, each defendant ― most of whom are kupuna ― faced the judge on charges of obstruction, a misdemeanor crime.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever been arrested or having to go through the court system in my life so it’s a little new for me,” said Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, a defendant and one of the leaders of the protest.
“I feel we are ordinary citizens standing up for our rights. To have the state treat us like criminals is a bit alarming.”
Some asked for a Hawaiian language interpreter.
The 28 were among 38 arrested on July 17 for blocking Mauna Kea Access Road, the only route to the summit for Thirty Meter Telescope construction equipment.
Nine others previously pleaded not guilty, while one has not yet appeared in front of a judge.
The next step for the group: Scheduling individual trials for every one of the defendants.
Meanwhile, the two men arrested during the demolition of an illegal structure on Mauna Kea also showed up in court, saying they were told Friday was their court date. That didn’t turn out to be correct.