AP NEWS

28 telescope protesters plead not guilty in Hawaii court

September 21, 2019 GMT

HILO, Hawaii (AP) — Dozens of people arrested on the Big Island during the first week of Mauna Kea demonstrations in July have pleaded not guilty in their first court appearances.

Twenty-eight of the 38 people arrested appeared in Hilo District Court Friday on obstruction charges for blocking access to the summit of Mauna Kea to prevent construction trucks and workers from building a giant telescope, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported .

The demonstrators don’t want the Thirty Meter Telescope built because they say it could damage land considered sacred by some Native Hawaiians.

Each of the 28 people, mainly island elders, pleaded not guilty based on their right to freedom of religion protected under the U.S. Constitution, defense attorneys said.

Judge Kanani Laubach scheduled pretrial conferences for nearly all of them in October and November, but waived the presence of some until trial.

There were moments of levity when some of the defendants questioned the judge about getting lunch at pretrial hearings, officials said.

Two individuals arrested and charged Sept. 6 for obstruction during the demolition of an unpermitted structure on Mauna Kea did not make appearances Friday.

Nine people who made their initial court appearances Aug. 23 were present Friday, officials said. Of the nine, three are scheduled for trial Nov. 1 and another three are scheduled for trial Nov. 22.

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Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, http://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/