The first batch of anti-extradition protesters in Hong Kong have been charged with rioting for their alleged role in Sunday's protests.
Braving the rain and a looming storm, hundreds of people gathered at around 9am yesterday outside the Eastern Magistrates' Court in the eastern part of Hong Kong Island to show their support.
The 44 people - 28 men and 16 women - are the first to be charged with one of the most serious public order offences in the city since protests over a contentious extradition Bill started in March. Rioting carries a jail term of up to 10 years.
Many of those charged are students, the youngest being a 16-year-old girl. The rest include a pilot, a teacher, a nurse, a chef and clerks, while some are unemployed. One of them faced an additional charge of assaulting police.
An arrest warrant was issued for clerk Yan Hoi Ying, 22, who was not present in court.
The other 43 are all out on bail of HK$1,000 (S$175).
Many were imposed with a curfew of between midnight and 6am. All but the pilot were banned from leaving Hong Kong.
The case has been adjourned to Sept 25.
As they walked out of the courthouse under a sea of umbrellas, supporters chanted, "Hong Kong, ga yau", a form of encouragement that means "come on, Hong Kong".
Separately, a 24-year-old man was charged with possessing an offensive weapon - an extendable baton. He was also released on bail of HK$1,000, and was given a midnight curfew.
Amid chants of "release the martyrs" and "there are no rioters, only despotism!" in Cantonese, student Annie Kwong, 16, told The Straits Times that she went to show support for those she called her "comrades".
"I hope that we can be here to show our support so they won't feel as afraid," she said.
Asked where the accused persons got their bail money from, Ms Kwong said there were pro bono lawyers, and crowdfunding was being done online.
A resident, who wished to be known only as Mr Mok and who lives in Sai Wan Ho, where the court is located, said the conflict between the protesters and the government "can be settled".
"They will be able to settle everything soon I think," the retiree in his 60s told ST, adding that "everyone just needs to sit down and talk".
Separately, the head of Education University, Professor Stephen Cheung, said yesterday that he had written to Chief Executive Carrie Lam to urge her to completely withdraw the now-suspended extradition Bill - a gesture that would pave the way for dialogue.
Prof Cheung, the first head of a university in the city to openly make such a request, said: "The government should take the lead to sincerely listen to the views, voice and aspiration of Hong Kong people. That is why I wrote to the Chief Executive a few days ago suggesting the government should formally hold a complete withdrawal of the Bill."
Former Hong Kong leader Tung Chee Hwa yesterday blamed "foreign forces" in Taiwan and the United States for the unrest in Hong Kong.
Speaking at his pro-government Our Hong Kong Foundation think-tank, Mr Tung said "a small number of people are abusing the government's leniency and using violent means to challenge Hong Kong's economy and social order, and to damage the relationship between the central government and the territory".
He urged Hong Kongers to be vigilant, noting that protesters' slogans have changed into talk about revolution and "reclaiming Hong Kong".
Hong Kong has been hit by eight straight weeks of mass protests, some of which have ended in violence. The protests were sparked by the now-suspended Bill that would have allowed the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China, which many say has an opaque legal system.
The protests have since evolved into a movement calling for greater democratic reforms.
On Sunday, the police were locked in street battles with protesters who deviated from an approved rally site, spilling out into several districts, including Sai Ying Pun, where Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong is located.
The police on Tuesday night said they arrested 49 people on Sunday. Among them was a 33-year-old man who also faces one count of assaulting a police officer. They said that an investigation is under way, and would not rule out the possibility of more arrests.
The Hong Kong police themselves are under investigation by the city's anti-corruption watchdog for their delayed response during an attack on passers-by on July 21 in Yuen Long. Gangs of men clad in white and armed with sticks had rampaged through the Yuen Long metro station, injuring some 45 people.