HONG KONG • More than 30 protesters appeared in court in Hong Kong, charged with taking part in a riot after a dispute between hawkers and police on the first day of the Chinese New Year holiday blew up into the city's worst violence since pro-democracy protests in 2014.
Sixty-four people have been arrested in connection with the Monday night violence that saw protesters hurl bricks at police and set fire to rubbish bins in Mongkok, a tough, working-class neighbourhood.
Thirty-eight people, including three women, aged between 15 and 70, were charged yesterday with participating in a "riot", the police said in a statement.
The 15-year-old boy was due to appear in a juvenile court today.
The defendants, who appeared one after another before the court, including one with a bandage on his head, were granted bail though they were ordered to stay away from areas where the clashes took place.
The next hearing will be on April 7. Rioting carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Localist group Hong Kong Indigenous, one of a cluster of outspoken groups calling for greater Hong Kong autonomy and even independence from China, confirmed to Reuters that one of its members, Edward Leung, was arrested. Leung, who had been planning to contest a by-election for the Hong Kong legislature, was one of those who appeared in court yesterday.
The head of the University of Hong Kong student union, Mr Billy Fung, said three of its students were also in court. Students from the university were at the forefront of the 2014 protests.
Student leader Joshua Wong, a key organiser of the 2014 Occupy movement, observed the hearing - he did not participate in Monday's protests. "The pro-establishment side needs to reflect on why some of the youth were ready to be put in jail for a maximum 10 years by joining the riots," he told Agence France-Presse.
Mr Wong said that some of the arrests were unfair as a number of the participants were non-violent.
He said fellow activist Derek Lam, from his Scholarism student protest group, was arrested at Hong Kong airport on Wednesday over the riot, on his way to Taiwan. Mr Wong added that Lam had been a peaceful demonstrator.
Of the 130 casualties sent to hospital, 90 were police officers and five were from the media. One journalist was filmed being beaten by officers and has reported the incident to police.
The clashes have been dubbed the "fishball revolution" after a favourite Hong Kong street snack. Hong Kongers are attached to the Chinese New Year tradition of enjoying street food, making street hawkers a cherished part of local culture.
Food and Health Secretary Ko Wing Man said on Wednesday that food safety inspectors were only patrolling Mongkok and not taking enforcement action against unlicensed hawkers when they were targeted by protesters on Monday, the South China Morning Post reported. The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department has been accused of taking tough action against the hawkers.
Mr Ray Wong, a core member of Hong Kong Indigenous, who was seen on Monday asking protesters to rally more friends to Mongkok, said: "Better to die with honour than survive in disgrace."
In pre-recorded audio published yesterday on the group's Facebook page, Mr Ray Wong said: "I witnessed how Hong Kong - which is supposed to belong to Hong Kongers - is gradually becoming unrecognisable."
Hong Kong Indigenous believes police might arrest him soon, the South China Morning Post reported yesterday.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS