Student protester Tony Tsang Chi-kin, the first person shot by the police with live ammunition during the Hong Kong protests, was charged on Thursday with one count of rioting and two counts of assaulting police.
Tsang is currently hospitalized in stable condition after surgery to remove a bullet that reportedly struck his left lung, within three centimeters of his heart. The Hong Kong Free Press reported on Thursday that he will be represented in court by his lawyer while he remains in the hospital. Six other people have been charged with rioting alongside Tsang. The oldest of the defendants, aged 38, has also been charged with arson.
Tsang could face up to ten years in prison if convicted on all charges.
Police officials defended the shooting of Tsang as justifiable force exercised by an officer in fear of his life. The widely-shared video clip that showed Tsang taking a bullet to the chest also showed the group of protesters he was with knocking a police officer to the ground, kicking him, and beating him with metal pipes. The video also shows a gasoline bomb detonating while officers scuffled with the protesters, which is presumably why one of them was charged with arson.
An internal memo leaked to Hong Kong media on Thursday showed the police relaxed their restrictions on the use of lethal force the day before the China National Day protest in which Tsang was shot.
The relaxed guidelines authorized police to use deadly force if they believed they were facing an assault that was “relatively likely” to cause serious injury or death, with no need to determine whether the assailant intended to cause such severe injuries. The memo also gave police broader discretion to use nonlethal riot-control weapons such as tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and batons.
Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam will hold a special meeting of her Executive Council on Friday to consider new measures for controlling the protests, including a possible ban on wearing masks. Protesters have a penchant for wearing everything from surgical masks to the Guy Fawkes masks popularized by the comic book and movie V for Vendetta, in part because they believe concealing their identities from pervasive electronic security makes it harder for the government to intimidate or subvert their movement.
Protest leaders and pro-democracy lawmakers warned that imposing more draconian restrictions could further aggravate an already explosive situation, with public anger running high after Tsang’s shooting. One legislator said on Thursday that a ban on masks would be like “adding oil to the fire.”
A group of Hong Kong citizens held a press conference on Thursday to announce they have 4,500 signatures on a letter demanding a full investigation into “the abuse of basic human rights of children” during the protests, as exemplified by the shooting of 18-year-old Tsang.
“We strongly condemn the abuse of power by the government and the police. We are deeply concerned about the situation and the safety of detained children,” the letter-writers said, vowing to take their concerns to the United Nations if Lam does not respond.
Thousands rallied again on Thursday to support Tsang, including classmates who chanted “no rioters, only tyranny” during a sit-in at his school.