HONG KONG: Forty-four protesters detained during recent violent clashes in Hong Kong were on Tuesday (Jul 30) charged with rioting, a charge that carries up to 10 years in jail.
The protesters formed an illegal assembly and blocked roads along Connaught Road West and Des Voeux Road West near Western Street on Sunday, the city's government said in a media release on Tuesday evening.
"They set up roadblocks by umbrellas, wooden planks, bamboo sticks and railings; pried up pavement bricks, demolished roadside fences, damaged street signs and lampposts as well as attacked police officers at scene with lethal weapons such as bricks and sharpened iron rods."
After the protesters ignored repeated warnings to leave the area, police officers took "dispersal action" at about 7pm. Police arrested 49 people aged between 16 and 41.
A 33-year-old man among those charged for rioting was also charged with assaulting a police officer. Separately, a 24-year-old man was charged with possession of offensive weapons.
The move to charge the 44 protesters comes a day after Beijing publicly threw its weight behind Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam and the police, saying violent protesters must be swiftly punished.
"No civilised society or rule of law society will tolerate rampant violence," Yang Guang, spokesman for the Cabinet-level Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, told reporters in a highly unusual public press conference.
Yang blamed the violence on a "few radicals" and said it "bumped into the bottom line" of the "one country, two systems" principle that governs the financial hub.
He also accused Western politicians of making "irresponsible remarks" to "mess up Hong Kong" and contain China's development.
Beijing has issued increasingly shrill condemnations of the protests, but has left it to the city's government to deal with the situation.
Lam has shown no sign of backing down beyond agreeing to suspend the extradition Bill and has made few public appearances.
Protesters have vowed to keep their campaign going until their core demands are met.
They include the resignation of Lam, an independent inquiry into police tactics, an amnesty for those arrested, a permanent withdrawal of the bill and the right to elect their leaders.
On Monday, activists held up trains on the city's subway system during the morning rush hour, leading to lengthy delays and long queues for buses.
It was not the first time they have used those tactics, but the disruption was more widespread than previously.
Under the 1997 handover deal with Britain, China promised to allow Hong Kong to keep key liberties such as its independent judiciary and freedom of speech.
But many say those provisions are already being curtailed, citing the disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians and the jailing of pro-democracy protest leaders.