Hong Kong authorities charged 44 protesters with rioting on Wednesday. The protesters were present at an “illegal” rally against the mob violence pro-democracy activists experienced this month at the hands of triad-linked assailants in the rural Yuen Long area after a protest.
Video footage and reporting from Yuen Long in mid-July showed a mob estimated to contain between 100-150 people, wearing white and covering their faces with surgical masks, attacking unarmed people around Yuen Long’s Mass Transit Rail (MTR) station. The attackers carried bamboo sticks and metal rods and targeted anyone they saw wearing black, the signature color of the pro-democracy protests. The attacks resulted in 45 people hospitalized, including several who said they were not a part of the protest that had ended just before the attacks began.
Police arrested 12 people in connection to the mob attack. A week later, protesters gathered against police wishes for a peaceful protest against the mob attack throughout Hong Kong. Police arrested at least 44 people for denouncing the violence. The protesters charged on Wednesday were arrested in Sheung Wan, where police attacked the crowds with tear gas and rubber bullets to prevent them from marching without a permit.
The South China Morning Post reported on Wednesday that Hong Kong police formally charged 43 people with rioting, a charge that may carry up to a decade in prison. Among them, 14 were students and the youngest is 16 years old. About half as many men were arrested as women. Police also charged a 44th person with rioting, though that individual did not appear in court, and a 45th person with “possessing an offensive weapon.” The only person arrested not charged with rioting is from Communist China, not Hong Kong.
The 44 were reportedly released on bail, supported by a crowd of peaceful protesters congregating outside their preliminary hearing. The judge only granted one of the protesters, an airline pilot, permission to leave Hong Kong, and only to fulfill his work obligations.
Hong Kong’s protest movement accuses the Communist Party of China of seeking to eliminate the region’s autonomy, protected by a policy China agreed to known as “One Country, Two Systems” that prevents China from imposing Communist Party law on the city. Protests erupted in early June in response to a proposed bill that would allow China to extradite anyone present in Hong Kong accused of violating communist law, thus breaching the “One Country, Two Systems” policy.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam delivered a speech in which she declared the extradition bill “dead,” but protesters still object to the fact that the legislature tabled, not withdrew, the bill. Tabling the bill allows lawmakers to revive it at any time, while withdrawing it prevents a vote on it permanently.
The protesters are demanding Hong Kong authorities release pro-democracy activists arrested for speaking out against China, universal suffrage in Hong Kong, and an independent inquiry on potential acts of police brutality against protesters. They are also still making the demand that launched the protests: the withdrawal of the extradition bill.
The protests against China were largely peaceful until the Yuen Long incident. Protesters complained that MTR workers did nothing to stop the violence when attackers cornered protesters and beat them on trains; they also noted the lack of police intervention to stop the violence. Videos circulated on social media showing some of the white-clad attackers chatting amicably with police and pro-China lawmaker Junius Ho, who has become a target of protester ire after refusing to justify greeting the mob.
Police arrested 12 men – out of a crowd of an estimated 100-150 men and women – for the Yuen Long attack. They confirmed that some had ties to triads, the violent organized crime syndicates indigenous to Hong Kong. Protesters have accused Hong Kong authorities of cooperating with the triads to intimidate the protesters out of continued action.
Protesters returned to Yuen Long last weekend – this time, without a legal permit to march, prompting police to use tear gas against the crowds. Protest organizers estimated the Yuen Long protest to have attracted 300,000 people despite police warning they would take action to stop it.
Protests against the Hong Kong government continued this week. On Tuesday night, a crowd gathered outside a police station in Tin Shui Wai, the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) reported, to support fellow protesters in custody. According to the HKFP, the crowd stayed there late into the night when, in the early morning hours, a car drove by and threw fireworks at them, injuring at least ten.
Protests are expected to temporarily die down this week as a tropical storm approaches the city.