A dissident Hong Kong lawmaker appeared in court Friday to answer what his supporters say are politically motivated misconduct charges.

Leung Kwok-hung, 60 — a leading pro-democracy figure widely known as “Long Hair” because of his signature locks — arrived at the city’s Eastern Magistrates Court dressed in a black T-shirt printed with the likenesses of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Aung San Suu Kyi. He was accompanied by some four dozen demonstrators from his political party, the League of Social Democrats (LSD), who brandished banners and chanted slogans.

The city’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) said in a statement Thursday that Leung had “willfully and intentionally misconducted himself” by not declaring a payment of $250,000 Hong Kong dollars (about $32,200) made to him by Jimmy Lai, the pro-democracy founder of Apple Daily, one of the territory’s biggest newspapers.

“It’s almost like a smear,” Leung tells TIME. “It’s time for us to consider whether these are politically oriented prosecutions.”

The payment was made on May 22, 2012, reportedly through Lai’s then assistant Mark Simon. Simon, a U.S. Navy veteran, has been long accused of being a former spy by Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing camp — a claim he scoffs at. Chinese state media has also tried to discredit Hong Kong activists by suggesting that they act under U.S. direction and with U.S. funding.

“Leung’s a good guy, a fighter for Hong Kong, and frankly I have no idea what they’re going on about,” Simon tells TIME.

Leung’s lawyer, Jonathan Man, tells TIME that the charges against Leung were being brought on a technicality. Leung, he says, “is claiming that the money was for the LSD, not for [him] personally, so [he didn’t] need to make that declaration at all.”

Leung is an outspoken promoter of universal suffrage in the territory, and was arrested in 2014 for his participation in the 79-day pro-democracy protests, known as the Umbrella Revolution.

“It’s difficult not to suspect its connection with the September [legislative] elections,” Willy Lam, adjunct professor of Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong tells TIME. “[Leung] might be forced to end his political career. It looks like an instance of politicization of the ICAC to put pressure on radical [pro-democracy] legislators.”

Leung’s case has been adjourned to the District Court, where a second hearing will be held on July 8.

 

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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