Twenty-seven people pleaded not guilty Friday to charges of obstructing government operations related to the ongoing protest against the planned Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea, according to media coverage.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported the group of largely elderly native Hawaiians appeared in Hilo District Court after they were arrested in July while blocking the access road leading to the mountain summit.
Judge M. Kanani Laubach scheduled hearings or pre-trial conferences for most of the defendants in the fall.
The protesters' not guilty pleas are based on religious grounds, according to Hawaii News Now, citing several of the defendants' attorneys.
In other Mauna Kea-related developments this week, University of Hawaii Board of Regents Chair Benjamin Kudo issued another statement calling for a peaceful resolution of the protest.
"I urged forces on all sides of this issue not to escalate matters, but to work in the spirit of ALOHA to find solutions that move Hawaiʻi forward. Imbedded in the meaning of my words is that any resolution sought should call for the abstention of violence," Kudo said, labeling his comments as personal views and not a statement from the board.
Kudo earlier this month called on UH President David Lassner to make Mauna Kea his top priority. Lassner said in an email to HPR the next day that he look Kudo's words to mean that the chair "hopes to impact the efforts of [Gov. David] Ige and [Big Island Mayor Harry] Kim and for that, I defer back to the statement."
Lassner also isssued a release this week denouncing the "hurtful and wholly inaccurate statements" made by a university faculty member disparaging Kamehameha Schools students. "We apologize to the entire Kamehameha Schools ʻohana for the disparaging remarks of one faculty member who does not represent the positions or views of the University of Hawaiʻi or its leadership," he stated.
His statement followed a release from the group Mauna Kea Protectors at the University of Hawai'i condemning what it described as racist attacks by pro-TMT faculty on Hawaiian faculty.
Mayor Kim, who the governor assigned to work out a resolution of the Mauna Kea dispute, appeared before the Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees on Thursday and previewed his plan, which he said in a Big Island Video news clip he is still revising.
But because Kim's plan is expected to support the construction of the telescope, opponents viewed his draft proposal as a non-starter.
One of the protest leaders, Kaho'okahi Kanuha, told the OHA board meeting on the Big Island that TMT won't be built on Mauna Kea and called on the agency to take a new stand on the telescope. He also thanked the board for their logistical support of the protesters.
That support has prompted the state Attorney Gemeral's Office to issue subpoenas seeking information from OHA on how it is supporting the protest.
The attorney general is taking on prosecution of those arrested for blocking the telescope's construction from the Big Island prosecutor Mitch Roth's office. The transfer follows an Associated Press story that his son's job creates a possible conflict.
The son is employed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory managed by the California Institute of Technology, among the partners developing TMT.