More than 20 Hong Kong protesters have been charged with rioting – the most serious charge brought since mass demonstrations began in the city last month.
Standing in a heavy rain, supporters rallied outside the court, chanting: “Reclaim Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” in what has become a familiar refrain.
They are protesting against China’s influence in the city, a semi-autonomous Chinese territory with its own laws and legal system.
Police said a total of 44 people had been charged with rioting and one other with possessing offensive weapons.
They are accused of setting up roadblocks, breaking fences, damaging street signs and attacking police officers with bricks and iron rods.
Only 23 appeared in court Wednesday, and all were released on bail. Their sentencing is scheduled for September 25. It is not clear when the others charged will appear in court.
They were detained after clashes with police at an unauthorised protest in the western part of Hong Kong island on Sunday, when police repeatedly fired tear gas and rubber bullets to drive back protesters blocking the streets with road signs and umbrellas.
Police issued warnings prior to using the tear gas, but protesters stood their ground and threw eggs at the officers.
Large-scale demonstrations started in the former British colony last month as a movement against now-suspended extradition legislation, and have since grown to encompass broader demands over greater democracy and government accountability.
The protests have been propelled by an underlying distrust for the ruling Communist Party on the mainland, where speech is tightly controlled and dissenters are routinely jailed.
BREAKING: At around 2:30 a.m., a black Toyota rushed by Tin Shui Wai Police Station and shot multiple rounds of FIREWORKS at protesters outside. Numerous injuries reported. This is undoubtedly yet another terrorist attack in #HongKong. pic.twitter.com/Ce1qndn7Bl— Jeffrey Ngo 敖卓軒 👷♂️🥽🌂🎒 (@jeffreychngo) July 30, 2019
News of the charges prompted organised protests outside two police stations late on Tuesday.
Several hundred people gathered in the streets outside the Kwai Chung police station. Some threw eggs at the building, while police used pepper spray to try to disperse them.
Some had cordoned off an area at a subway station covered in shattered glass where they said an officer had used a firearm.
Fireworks were set off just before 3am at another police station, injuring six men. Video footage on social media appeared to show a car driving by the Tin Shui Wai police station as fireworks flared where protesters were gathered.
Five people were taken to a hospital and the sixth man declined medical treatment at the scene, police said. It is not clear who was responsible.
As the demonstration seeped into the early hours of Wednesday, protesters and supporters remained wary of being identified by the authorities and suffering potential retribution at their places of work and study.
Volunteers handed out face masks and single-trip subway fare cards that would prevent riders being identified and their trips logged in a central database, while drivers who had taped paper over their licence plates offered rides home.
Hong Kong legislator Kwok Ka-ki told reporters that the prosecution of protesters and use of police force will only make the situation worse. He blamed Beijing-appointed chief executive Carrie Lam for the situation.
“The origin of all the violence is Carrie Lam and the very controversial extradition bill,” he said, adding: “She should come out today to answer to all the requests of most of the people in Hong Kong.”
- Press Association