A Cathay Pacific pilot, two gym owners, a teacher and a 16-year-old girl were among those who appeared before a Hong Kong court on Wednesday accused of rioting during anti-government demonstrations at the weekend.
The court appearances come a day after violence erupted outside two police stations in the territory when officials revealed they had charged 44 people over the protests, further raising tensions in Hong Kong’s worst political crisis in decades.
While most of those who were charged with rioting were students, the variety of professions involved in the protests shows how many middle-class Hong Kong residents are also participating in the demonstrations.
All but one of the 44 people charged by police appeared before the court on Wednesday. Most were given bail conditions that included the payment of HK$1,000 ($128) bail, a travel ban and a nightly curfew from 12am to 6am.
One of those charged, Liu Chung-yin, a 30-year-old pilot with Hong Kong’s flag carrier, Cathay Pacific Airways, was given a conditional exemption from the travel ban, enabling him to work.
The airline declined to comment, citing privacy reasons.
Those who were charged were arrested after clashes between protesters and police grew increasingly violent on Saturday and Sunday.
The demonstrations follow nearly two months of protests that began with opposition to a proposed extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to China for trial and have grown into the biggest anti-government movement in Hong Kong since its handover from the UK to China in 1997.
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s leader, has suspended the extradition bill but the protesters are demanding its full withdrawal as well as an inquiry into police violence, constitutional reform and the dropping of any rioting charges.
Two of the defendants who appeared before court on Wednesday were a couple, Tong Wai-hung and Elaine To, who own a gym in Hong Kong, and were planning to get married on Sunday. A lawyer for the couple, Hector Pun, told the court they were arrested when they tried to help a 16-year-old get up off the ground.
The 16-year-old girl also appeared in court, appearing distressed and biting her lip.
Another defendant, Chen Zimou, 24, who was charged with possessing “an offensive weapon”, could only speak Mandarin rather than Hong Kong’s local language, Cantonese. His lawyers said he needed to travel to Shenzhen once a week to tutor music. Mr Chen lives at a hostel at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Hundreds formed a crowd outside the court, despite heavy rains from a typhoon, chanting “there are not rioters, only tyranny!” and “keep it up” to the defendants as they left the court.
The gathering followed a protest on Tuesday evening during which protesters pelted police with various objects, such as umbrellas, outside police stations where some of the defendants were being detained.
At one point an officer aimed a gun at a group of demonstrators after they surrounded him. It was not clear what type of ammunition he was using. No lethal ammunition has been used during the protests, although police have fired rubber and foam bullets as well as bean bag rounds.
Protesters have become increasingly angry with the police after a number of demonstrators were beaten by men accused of being linked to triads on July 21 at a train station in an area of Hong Kong close to the border of mainland China.
Police were criticised for arriving too late to stop 45 people from being injured that night. Twelve men have since been arrested in connection with the attacks, but on suspicion of “unlawful assembly”, which carries a lower maximum penalty than rioting. All the men have been released on bail.
“Unrest and apparent rising distrust in government runs the risk of damaging business confidence and eroding the quality and effectiveness of governance, which supports Hong Kong’s three-notch positive sovereign rating differential with China,” Fitch, the rating agency, said in a statement on Monday.
Ms Lam met international and local business groups on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Andrew Leung, the president of Hong Kong’s de facto parliament, the Legislative Council, said the local government was “in the process of engaging a security expert” to look into how to strengthen its building in central Hong Kong after it was stormed by protesters on July 1.
*This article has been amended since publication to clarify the name of the president of the Legislative Council