Hundreds of people surrounded a police station in Hong Kong on Tuesday chanting “free the martyrs” after 44 activists were charged with rioting following weekend clashes between protesters and police defending China’s representative office.
It was the first time the rioting charge has been used during protests which erupted over an extradition bill that would have allowed people in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China for trial. Another man was charged with possession of an offensive weapon.
What started three months ago as rallies against the extradition bill, has evolved into a wider backlash against the city’s government and its political masters in Beijing.
The near daily protests have disrupted business, piled pressure on the city’s government and stretched its police force, which some have accused of using excessive force.
Hundreds of protesters gathered at the Kwai Chung police station where some of the activists were to be freed on bail. Clashes broke out between the protesters and police. One officer brandished a gun to ward off the crowd.
Rioting carries a maximum ten year jail term in Hong Kong. Activists say they have done nothing wrong and are only seeking justice. In the driving rain, many chanted “Liberate Hong Kong,” and “Revolution of our time”.
Besides calling for the extradition bill to be scrapped, rather than its suspension so far, protesters have also demanded the resignation of city leader Carrie Lam, an independent inquiry into the police’s handling of the crisis and the unconditional release of all those arrested.
Some of the activists are due to appear in court on Wednesday.