A judge in Hong Kong on Wednesday released a 14-year-old girl sent to a children's home after chalking a flower on the Lennon Wall pro-democracy site, but under strict curfew pending further hearings.
As embattled Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying presided with his family over the city's annual New Year countdown and fireworks display over the iconic Victoria Harbor, the girl, who has become known as Chalk Girl on social media, has been barred from leaving her home unaccompanied as a condition of her release, her lawyer said.
The would-be protester had chalked two flowers around a sticky-taped umbrella, symbol of the 79-day "Umbrella Movement" that occupied key highways and intersections in the semiautonomous Chinese city amid calls for fully democratic elections.
Her drawing sparked a rash of copycat chalk-drawing protests across Hong Kong, where police actions to clear protesters and an inflexible approach from local officials and the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing have left public anger simmering since protest sites were cleared earlier this month.
Under the conditions of her release, the girl must continue her studies and observe a curfew between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., as well as ensure she never leaves the house unaccompanied by her father, sister or a social worker.
The decision came after an emergency hearing of an appeal against the referral to a children's home under child protection laws lodged by top barrister and Democratic Party founding chairman Martin Lee.
The academic activist group Scholarism set up an online petition in protest at her detention and the continuing threat of separation from her father on Thursday.
The girl's detention in a children's home sparked visits from members of Hong Kong's Legislative Council (LegCo) earlier on Wednesday, as well as a public outcry among concerned citizens and accusations of "white terror" leveled at police and government.
A spokesperson for Hong Kong's Justice Department said the child protection order had been applied for by police and been granted by the court.
A spokesperson for the Social Welfare department said only that the girl had "received appropriate care" while she was in the children's home.
The girl's Dec. 23 detention under a child protection order is the second to be reported in connection with the Occupy Central movement.
In November, police detained arrested a 14-year-old boy during the clearance of a protest site in Kowloon. He has been allowed to stay with his parents while awaiting a hearing scheduled for Jan. 12.
Neither child has been charged with any crime, but their parents' ability to offer an adequate home is now under assessment by the authorities.
Umbrella-wielding protesters clustered among the regular crowds on Wednesday as Hong Kong began its countdown celebrations to usher in the New Year.
A post by Umbrella Movement protesters on Facebook called on pro-democracy movement followers to gather at 2 p.m. to protest the 14-year-old's detention.
"We want to show this power-crazed administration...that we stand with this 14-year-old girl," the post said.
It called on protesters to scribble chalk flowers and stick Post-it notes in protest at what it called an "abuse of power" by Hong Kong's police force.
Police are expecting some 380,000 people to turn out as crowds gather to usher in 2015, and hoping to forestall "walkabout" style democracy protests which have taken the place of the occupation sites in recent weeks.
Umbrellas, yellow ones in particular, became the symbol of the Occupy Central movement for fully democratic elections in 2017 after protesters used them to ward off tear gas and pepper spray attacks from riot police on Sept. 28, bringing hundreds of thousands of citizens out onto the streets in protest over police action in the days that followed.
The Occupy movement has campaigned for Beijing to withdraw its electoral reform plan, which it says is "fake universal suffrage," and allow publicly nominated candidates to run for chief executive in 2017.
An Aug. 31 decision by China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), decreed that while all 5 million of Hong Kong's voters will cast ballots in the 2017 poll, they may only choose between two or three candidates vetted by a Beijing-backed election committee.
Beijing has also criticized international support for the Occupy Central protests, saying that the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration is "void" and that China answers to no one in exercising sovereignty over Hong Kong.
Reported by Dai Weisen for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.