HONG Kong: At least 44 protesters currently detained in Hong Kong can be sentenced up to 10 years in prison, as the finance hub’s embattled pro-Beijing leaders crack down on weeks of demonstrations.
The police said the 44 resisted arrest and fought, thus forcing authorities to expedite their day in court yesterday and have their charges be read ahead of those who did not refuse arrest.
Police said from a simple misconduct, the protesters have become so decadent, prompting the police to use water cannons, pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse them.
The protests have evolved into calls for wider democratic reforms and a halt to sliding freedoms in the most significant challenge to Beijing’s rule since the city’s 1997 handover from British rule.
The last two weekends have seen a dramatic surge in the level of violence used by both protesters and police who have repeatedly fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse projectile-throwing crowds.
A mob of pro-government thugs also attacked protesters putting 45 people in hospital.
In the latest clashes with police on Sunday, protesters fought running battles with riot officers in a well-heeled residential suburb on the main island with 49 arrests made — 32 men and 17 women aged between 16 and 41.
Police late Tuesday said 44 of those arrested were being charged with rioting and would appear in court on Wednesday morning. Another man was charged with possession of an offensive weapon with the others released.
Rioting is one of the most serious public order offences on Hong Kong’s statute books and carries a sentence of up to a decade in jail.
The move to charge protesters with rioting came a day after Beijing publicly threw its weight behind Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam and the police saying violent protesters must be swiftly punished.
“No civilized society or rule of law society will tolerate rampant violence,” Yang Guang, spokesman for the cabinet-level Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, told reporters.
But while Beijing has issued increasingly shrill condemnations of the protests, it has left the city’s government to deal with the situation.
Lam has shown no sign of backing down beyond agreeing to suspend the extradition bill, and has made few public appearances.
Amnesty International said the charging of the 44 protesters with rioting was aimed at intimidating others from taking part in future pro-democracy rallies.
“By using such vague charges against pro-democracy protesters, the Hong Kong authorities seem intent on sending a chilling warning to anyone considering taking part in future protests,” the global human rights group’s Hong Kong director, Man-kei Tam, said in a statement.
But protesters have vowed to keep their campaign going until their core demands are met.
They include Lam’s resignation, an independent inquiry into police tactics, an amnesty for those arrested, a permanent withdrawal of the bill and the right to elect their leaders. AFP