A total of 44 protesters charged with rioting by Hong Kong police during the clashes on Sunday in Western District were released on bail, but most were subject to a curfew imposed by the Eastern Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday.
Police arrested 49 people on Sunday and later charged 44 of them with rioting. One of the defendants also faces a count of assaulting a police officer.
Another was charged with possession of offensive weapons. Another four were released.
The 29 men and 15 women, aged between 16 and 41, appeared on Wednesday at the Eastern Magistrates’ Court for the first mention. They were granted bail of HK$1,000 (US$127) each.
Thousands of people gathered outside the court building in Sai Wan Ho and chanted slogans to showed their support for the defendants, although under the threat of an approaching typhoon.
Some young defendants arrived with family members and friends and some came alone. The court heard that a 22-year-old female charged with rioting failed to show up, leading principal magistrate Peter Law Tak-chuen to issue an arrest warrant.
Of the 45 defendants who showed up at court, 33 were aged between 16 and 24, nine between 25 and 35 and three 35 or older. The court heard that 13 defendants were students and seven office clerks. Other occupations were pilot, teacher, nurse, construction worker, hairstylist and technician.
No pleas were taken and they will be back in court on September 25. Their cases may be heard in West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court, where the courtrooms are larger.
A 33-year-old clerk was also charged with one count of assaulting a police officer. He was arrested for allegedly punching chief inspector Tang Chi-siu in the chest outside a hotel on Des Voeus Road West. Tang is the son of former police commissioner Tang King-shing.
The court heard that the riots allegedly occurred at three separate locations in Sheung Wan. A total of 24 people were arrested on Des Voeux Road West near Queen Street, 17 at the junction of Connaught Road Central and Man Wah Lane and three near Des Voeux Road West near Western Street.
Lawyer Hector Pun Hei appealed to the magistrate to allow a couple aged 38 and 41, who own a gymnasium in Central, to leave Hong Kong for their honeymoon. The court was told they will have their wedding on August 4.
Pun said the couple was arrested after helping the youngest defendant, a 16-year-old student, to stand up. But the magistrate rejected the request and insisted they could not leave Hong Kong.
A welfare worker for charity organization Po Leung Kuk, a computer technician and a pilot who needed to work at night or on shifts, were allowed to leave their homes during the overnight curfew, but only for work. The pilot was also allowed to leave Hong Kong as long as he provided his duty roster.
An unnamed nurse issued a letter to the Nursing Council of Hong Kong, claiming that one of the defendants, the 28-year-old nurse, was at the site to carry out humanitarian work, but was charged with rioting.
An online petition supported the nurse and slammed government ignorance on humanitarianism, saying a nurse was prosecuted for carrying out humanitarian aid at the site. By Thursday, 18,000 people had signed the petition.
Meanwhile, Johnson Yeung Ching-yin, the former covenor of Civil Human Rights Front, was arrested on a footbridge outside the IFC mall in Central for allegedly obstructing police. He was released on bail on Wednesday night pending investigation.
Yeung said he and other defendants were detained in a carpark inside the Kwai Chung Police Station for more than 24 hours. He described the carpark as hot as a steam oven and added that some female protesters were feeling unwell because of the heat.
Most were initially told they would be charged with unlawful assembly, but after 30 hours in detention, they were told they were charged with rioting. Yeung said some of the defendants cried and did not know what to do.
After being released on bail on Wednesday night, Yeung met the media outside the Kwai Chung Police Station and said: “Many of them inside (the police station) are just aged 10ish or 20ish, so why did the government charge them with rioting? In 2014, the government did the same thing. In 2016, they did it again.
“Five years later in 2019, the government is still using the fresh blood and freedom of the young people to trade off their dignity, their authority and their interest,” Yeung added. “We fight for freedom, we are not rioters.”
Meanwhile, a group of prosecutors slammed Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, accusing her of “kowtowing to the chief executive” and making prosecutions decisions based on political factors.
An anonymous open letter bearing the letterhead of the Department of Justice Prosecution Division accused Cheng and David Leung Cheuk-yin, the director of public prosecutions, of forgetting two principles for pursuing a criminal case – a reasonable chance of conviction and whether it meets the public interest.
The group also stated its support for an independent investigation into the crisis sparked by the government’s extradition bill, in particular the indiscriminate mob attacks in Yuen Long on July 21.
At least five prosecutors signed the letter, including senior members of the department, Radio Television Hong Kong quoted sources as saying.
The open letter came after another one issued by the government lawyers, urging the government to set up a commission of inquiry to probe the extradition bill saga.