Pilot, teachers, nurses charged with rioting
More than 40 people appeared in a Hong Kong court yesterday charged with rioting for their role in a protest which turned violent when thousands clashed with police near Beijing's main representative office in the city.
A wave of protests which began in late April have plunged the former British colony into its biggest political crisis since its return to Chinese rule in 1997, but this is the first time authorities have used the rioting charge.
The 44 charged had been arrested after a peaceful gathering on Sunday in a park in the city's central business district rapidly turned into running battles between thousands of black-clad demonstrators and police, who fired rubber bullets and tear gas.
The use of the anti-riot law could infuriate activists who have been demanding the government avoid using the term "riot" to refer to the demonstrations.
Under Hong Kong law, rioting is defined as an unlawful assembly of three or more people where any person "commits a breach of the peace", and a conviction can carry a 10-year prison sentence.
Most of the defendants were released on bail of HK$1,000 (€115). The court also imposed a curfew from midnight to 6am on most of them, and many were ordered to remain in Hong Kong.
Those charged included 13 students, seven clerks, a pilot from the city's main airline, Cathay Pacific, teachers, nurses, workers and salesmen. All were released on bail and are due back in court on September 25.
"The Chinese government just wants to scare people not to go out and protest again," said a supporter outside court.