♦ Court grants bail to 44 pro-democracy protesters
♦ Most defendants ordered to abide by midnight curfew
♦ Outraged Hong Kong’s civil servants voice rare dissent
♦ China halts individual travel to Taiwan
Dozens of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters appeared in court yesterday after being charged with rioting, setting the stage for further unrest in a weeks-long crisis that has rocked the global financial hub.
The announcement on Tuesday night that 44 people had been charged with rioting -- an offence that carries a jail term of up to 10 years -- immediately triggered another round of clashes between police and protesters.
Supporters continued to voice their outrage as they stood for hours yesterday outside court, braving heavy winds and rain, as the accused rioters appeared before a judge.
The protesters were generally calm as they took turns to appear in front of the judge, who formally read the charges and granted them bail.
The range of their professions reflected the wide support across Hong Kong society for the pro-democracy movement. They included a teacher, a nurse, an airline pilot, a barber, a chef, an electrician, a construction worker and unemployed people, according to their charge sheets.
Semi-autonomous Hong Kong has endured more than seven weeks of unrest that began with a government bid to introduce a law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China. Though the bill has been declared dead by authorities, the protests has evolved into a movement for deeper democratic reforms and an end to eroding freedoms, in the most significant challenge to Beijing’s rule since the city’s handover from Britain in 1997.
Meanwhile, growing ranks of Hong Kong’s typically conservative and publicity-shy bureaucrats have begun an unprecedented online dissent campaign against the city’s pro-Beijing leaders.
Multiple open letters have been signed by hundreds of anonymous civil servants in the past week condemning the administration of city leader Carrie Lam and the police. A group of civil servants have also announced plans to hold a rally on Friday night -- something unheard of from a demographic that usually eschews politics.
In another development, China stepped up pressure on Taiwan yesterday as it announced the suspension of individual travel permits to the self-ruled democratic island “due to current cross-strait relations”.
A programme had allowed Chinese citizens in 47 mainland cities to apply for permits to visit Taiwan on their own instead of visiting on group tours.
But the tourism ministry said in a brief statement that their issuance would be suspended from Thursday, a move that could hurt the island’s economy.