Hong Kong protesters in court as US warns troops massing on China border

ong Kong police hauled dozens of protesters through court yesterday to face draconian charges of rioting in a move likely to further stir violent unrest.

Charges were read against 23 people on Wednesday, accusing them of setting up road blocks, breaking fences, damaging street signs, and attacking police officers with “lethal weapons,” such as bricks.

It was the first time authorities have formally accused protesters of rioting – a charge that carries a possible 10-year prison sentence – since mass demonstrations broke out early June, plunging Hong Kong into its worst political turmoil since the former British colony was returned to Beijing.

The charges came amid reports that Chinese armed forces are mobilising on the border with Hong Kong. The White House is monitoring the military build up, sources told Bloomberg.

Protesters  defied the lashing wind and rain of an incoming typhoon to gather outside court where demonstrators appeared before the judge to be formally charged with rioting. The indicted included a teacher, a nurse, an airline pilot, a barber, a chef, an electrician, a construction worker and unemployed people, according to their charge sheets. A 16-year-old girl was also among the group. The eldest was 41.

Braving the weather, protesters chanted: “Release the righteous… There are no rioters, only tyranny… reclaim Hong Kong, the revolution of our times.”

Violent clashes ending in injuries and arrests are occurring nearly every day now in the former British colony as protesters angry with the government continue to go head-to-head with the police.

Hong Kong Protests A timeline

  • 2001 Deputy Chief Executive Anson Chan, one of the main opponents to Beijing’s interference in Hong Kong affairs, resigns amid Chinese pressure, the most significant government change since Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997.
  • 2002 Members of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement, are arrested and face trial after protesting outside the Beijing liaison office in Hong Kong. The group becomes a symbol of political resistance in the territory. The 16 protesters are found guilty.
  • 2003 Half a million Hong Kongers took to the streets to protest a push to enact national security legislation, known as Article 23, in the largest post-colonial protests until this year’s mass rallies. That legislation, against sedition, subversion, secession, and treason, would have given authorities the power to conduct warrantless searches and even shut down news organisations.
  • 2004 The seventh anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China sparks mass protests. Over 200,000 Hong Kong residents demonstrate against Beijing’s interference in electing their chief executive. Britain accuses China of interfering in Hong Kong’s constitutional reform process, and failing to respect the territory’s self-governance.
  • 2014 Contrary to promises made in 2007, the Chinese government fails to concede fully democratic elections to Hong Kong’s upcoming leadership race of 2017. This leads to the rise of the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement which shuts down areas of the city for weeks.
  • 2015 China abducts five Hong Kong booksellers for selling politically sensitive books, undermining the territory’s self-governance. Popular pro-democracy movements intensify when the main legislative body, the Legislative Council, rejects a proposal for an autonomous election in the next Hong Kong elections in 2017.
  • 2016 In February, the government’s move to ban unlicensed street food hawkers led to violent clashes between police and protesters. Dubbed the “Fishball Revolution,” 70 people were arrested and two of the protest leaders fled to Germany, where they were recently granted asylum.Beijing pushes to remove two pro-democracy legislators from office, after they refuse to pledge allegiance to China in their swearing-in ceremony. The high court follows this decision and upholds to disqualify Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-Ching from the Legislative Council.
  • 2017 Another four elected lawmakers – most of them in their 20s and 30s – are expelled from the city’s legislature after courts rule they had failed to take their swearing-in oaths properly. For instance, Nathan Law of Demosisto, a political party co-founded with fellow Umbrella Revolution leader Joshua Wong, was penalised for adding an upward inflection to the word “republic” in the “People’s Republic of China.”
  • 2019 On April 3, Carrie Lam’s government presents a draft of the extradition bill to the Legislative Council, where pro-China politicians have a majority. The bill would allow individuals who face trial in Hong Kong to be handed over to Chinese authorities, who have a record of arbitrary detentions, torture, and other human rights violations.

On Tuesday spontaneous violent protests broke out outside the police headquarters as the new rioting charges were announced for the first time.

Clashes between police and demonstrators took an extraordinary turn when crowds were targeted with fireworks shot from a moving car.

At least six people were injured in the drive-by captured on video and shared widely on social media. The attacks are likely to sow further confusion amid the escalating crisis in Hong Kong, after protesters were targeted last week by a mob  linked to triad gangs.

Hong Kong police on Wednesday arrested three men on criminal damage and common assault, and said they will “spare no effort in investigating all illegal and violent acts”.

The charges formally levelled at protesters are likely to further enrage demonstrators, who first demanded the formal withdrawal of an extradition bill that would send suspects to face trial in mainland China, where Communist Party control of the courts contributes to a 99.9 per-cent conviction rate.

Protesters have since expanded their demands to include the resignation of Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam, the convening of an independent commission to investigate police brutality against the protesters, and the release of those arrested – at least 170 people so far.

Continuing unrest is fuelling concerns that China’s central government in Beijing might deploy the military,which would be reminiscent of the 1989 bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square.

In comments to Bloomberg on Wednesday, an anonymous US government official said the White House is monitoring a congregation of Chinese forces along the border to Hong Kong, though the nature of the build-up isn’t clear. China’s ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Wednesday she wasn’t aware of a situation on the border.

The Chinese central government reiterated earlier this week that it supported Hong Kong’s leader and police in cracking down to maintain order, and that Beijing would only send troops at the request of city officials.

China has also accused Western nations of sowing discord in the city as a way to destabilise China.

“If the turbulence continues, the whole of Hong Kong society will pay the cost,” said Yang Guang, a spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs office, which reports to China’s cabinet.

The Hong Kong government estimates the PLA maintains a garrison of 8,000 to 10,000 troops in Hong Kong, along with a naval squadron and a helicopter regiment; more troops are stationed in neighbouring Shenzhen.

Demonstrations are planned through to late August. 

Source: The Telegraph

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