Authorities in Hong Kong have released on bail all but one of the 44 people who were arrested on suspicion of “rioting” following clashes between police and anti-extradition protesters in the city’s Western district on Sunday.
Seven of the defendants are teenagers, with one as young as 16, while most are in their twenties. Fourteen told the court they are still in college.
One defendant is a pilot with Hong Kong’s flag-carrier Cathay Pacific, while others gave their occupations as nurse, teacher, or clerk.
A 24-year-old man has also been charged with possessing an offensive weapon, after being found with an extendable baton.
All but the airline pilot have been slapped with a travel ban, after the pilot’s lawyers argued that he would lose his job if prevented from traveling.
The pilot, Liu Chung-yin, is only allowed to leave the city on work assignments, however.
All cases have been adjourned to Sept. 25.
Several hundred people gathered outside the Eastern Magistrates Court on Wednesday to show support for the arrested protesters, chanting, “There was no rioting, only state violence!” and “Reclaim Hong Kong! Revolution for our time!”
A student outside the court who gave only her surname Man said the defendants were only trying to get the administration of chief executive Carrie Lam to listen to their voices.
“We came out onto the streets, but the government ignored us, so we have continued to protest, because we really want the government to listen to our views,” she said.
“But instead, a lot of people are being pursued via the criminal justice system,” she said.
Another supporter, surnamed Cheung, said he had come along to show his support for a friend who had been arrested.
“The government is taking a hard line right now, and pinning criminal charges on innocent people, which is totally incredible and unacceptable,” Cheung said.
“This is clearly a case of the government trying to silence us through fear and authoritarian methods,” he said. “They want us to be afraid, but I think that we are less and less likely to surrender, the more they act like this.”
The arrests come as more than 1,000 civil servants from 52 government departments signed up to take part in a strike on Monday initiated by staff at the University of Hong Kong.
The strikers will be calling on the government to meet the five main demands of protesters: to formally withdraw proposed amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance that would allow extradition to mainland China; to grant an amnesty for all arrested protesters; to withdraw official accusations of rioting; to set up an independent inquiry into police behavior during the crisis; and fully democratic elections.
The strikes will follow a rally scheduled for Friday in the central business district, and come amid warnings that wildcat strike actions not formally balloted by unions are marked down as absenteeism by government departments.
Healthcare workers have also offered public support to the protest movement, and called on the government to meet protesters’ demands or risk irreparable damage to Hong Kong society.
Requests for comment to the Hospital Authority went unanswered at the time of writing on Wednesday.
Confederation of Trade Unions (CTU) chairwoman, Carol Ng, who has called for a general strike in support of the anti-extradition movement, said resistance to the planned amendments is spreading like wildfire across all sectors of Hong Kong society.
She said 26 trade unions have indicated that they will join the strikes.
“If the government still hasn’t responded to the public’s demands, the strike action will be escalated next Monday,” Ng said.
The strikes come amid growing violence in Hong Kong.
At least six people were injured after unidentified attackers fired fireworks from a passing vehicle into a crowd demanding the release of two arrested protesters outside the Tin Shui Wai police station in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
The car then caused a bus crash before leaving the scene at speed. At least five people were taken to hospital, while a police bomb disposal unit was called in.
London-based rights group Amnesty International has said the police are largely to blame for protester violence, because they have a tendency to use tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and batons to attack the crowd, and that police justification that the protests hadn’t received prior approval wasn’t in line with international human rights standards.
Attacks at metro station
Public anger began to spiral after a gang of triad-linked men in white shirts attacked train passengers at Yuen Long MTR station on July 21.
Nobody was arrested at the time, and police took around 40 minutes to move in on the attackers, who left dozens of people hospitalized, one in a critical condition. Media footage of the incident has shown a number of police vehicles passing groups of white-shirted men gathering on the street prior to the attack, carrying rods and sticks, without taking any action.
Beijing has called on authorities in Hong Kong to take rapid steps to punish anyone who has broken its laws following weeks of angry protests over plans to allow extradition to mainland China.
Chinese officials have declined to comment on whether Beijing will order its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) garrison to intervene in Hong Kong, referring only to the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which allows for that possibility if the request is made by the Hong Kong government.
Officials and state-run Chinese media have insisted that the protests are being orchestrated by overseas forces, a claim which the U.S. State Department has repeatedly dismissed.
The amendments are widely seen as a threat to Hong Kong’s way of life, which was supposed to have been protected by the “one country, two systems” framework under which the former British colony was handed back to China in 1997.
If they become law, the city could lose its status as a separate legal jurisdiction and trading entity, while journalists, visitors, rights activists, dissidents, democratic politicians, and members of the business community could be targeted for words and actions deemed illegal by Chinese officials.
They could then be extradited to face trial in Chinese courts, which are directly controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Students, March organizers, and pro-democracy lawmakers have all rejected government attempts at initiating discussions, saying that having their demands met would be a precondition for talks.
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