HONG KONG (AFP) - Seven Hong Kong police officers appeared in court Monday (Oct 19), charged with assaulting a pro-democracy protester in a beating captured on video and beamed around the world.
Some of them wore dark glasses and surgical masks as they entered the court, while around 50 supporters gathered outside waving Chinese flags and shouting: "Support police" and "Democrats will be doomed".
The courtroom was also packed with both pro-democracy and pro-government supporters, reflecting the deeply divisive case.
Footage of the attack on Civic Party activist Ken Tsang a year ago was broadcast globally at the height of mass protests seeking free leadership elections in Hong Kong.
The seven police, who include senior officers, are charged with causing grievous bodily harm with intent.
One also faces an allegation of common assault on Tsang which the justice department said happened in an interview room after his arrest.
All were released on HK$1,000 (S$178) bail at Eastern Magistrates' court and are due to appear again on Nov 17.
In a twist to the case, Tsang was also last week charged with assault - on the same day the seven officers were charged.
The authorities say he "splashed liquid" on officers and resisted arrest.
The officers Tsang allegedly splashed were not those accused of subsequently attacking him.
Tsang, 40, was also due to appear in court later on Monday.
He and his legal team have questioned why the assault and obstruction charges have been brought against him a year later, and have accused the authorities of trying to deflect attention from the case against the officers.
Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" agreement and enjoys much greater freedoms than on the mainland, but there are fears those freedoms are being eroded.
Pro-democracy protesters blocked several main roads for 79 days late last year, but won no political concessions from either the Hong Kong or Beijing governments.
A number of protesters have been arrested since their camps were cleared in December, leaving a social and political schism between their supporters and those loyal to the mainland.