Hong Kong Court Charges 38 Over Chinese New Year 'Fishball' Riots

china-hkriot-feb112016.jpg Supporters help an accused rioter (left, in jacket) into a taxi following a court hearing in Hong Kong, Feb. 11, 2016.

A court in Hong Kong on Thursday charged 37 people, including a prominent "localist" activist, with rioting and unlawful assembly following clashes in the Kowloon district of Mong Kok on Monday night.

A group of supporters, including former pro-democracy movement student leaders Joshua Wong, Yvonne Leung, and University of Hong Kong student union leader Billy Fung, gathered outside the Kowloon City Court as the defendants crowded into the packed court room.

Among those charged were would-be lawmaker Edward Leung, who heads the "localist" group Hong Kong Indigenous, which campaigns in support of the city's unique heritage and against further assimilation and control from the central government in Beijing.

Leung told reporters after leaving the court: "I will do my best to get in touch with more lawyers for the defense team, to see if we can't expand it further ... because we are under a huge amount of pressure right now."

Fung declined to comment when contacted by RFA.

Also charged was Stephen Ku, who will take over the editorship of Hong Kong University’s student magazine Undergrad after it was singled out for criticism for its discussion of ideas linked to a Hong Kong identity and the notion of independence for the former British colony.

An unnamed defendant was also charged at a juvenile court, bringing the total number of people charged to 38, with 37 charged with rioting and one with unlawful assembly, local media reported.

The University of Hong Kong, itself at the heart of a dispute with students over its decision not to hire liberal legal scholar Johannes Chan as pro-vice-chancellor, said in a statement that its students were among three of those charged.

"The University of Hong Kong can confirm that three of its students were arrested and charged in court today," the university said in a statement on its website, without naming them.

"As we have repeatedly stated, we condemn any form of violence by any party," it said.

The Chinese University of Hong Kong issued a similar statement saying that two of its students had been arrested.

Bricks thrown, fires set

The Mong Kok riots, dubbed the "fishball revolution" on social media, flared up after a dispute between police and unlicensed food vendors in the gritty working class district, which was also the scene of clashes during the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement.

Video footage of the riots showed a large crowd throwing bricks and other objects at riot police, who fought back with pepper spray and batons, injuring an unknown number of peole. Others set fire to debris in the street, while business owners reported damage to property.

Six people out of the 130 injured remained in hospital on Thursday, Hong Kong's English-language South China Morning Post newspaper reported.

It said 15 students, including high-school students, were among the 64 people arrested during the riots, while 14 were members of activist groups like Hong Kong Indigenous and the student activist group Scholarism headed by Joshua Wong, the paper quoted government sources as saying.

Hong Kong Indigenous said it had become involved in the dispute with food vendors out of solidarity and to protect the tradition of Chinese New Year street food as an integral part of Hong Kong culture. It has said that around 20 of its members were among those arrested.

Wong has hit out at Lam's detention, accusing the authorities of deliberately trying to link his group to the riot.

"I think it's really unreasonable to arrest Derek Lam, because during the whole of the Mong Kok incident Derek Lam acted on the principle of peace and nonviolence," Wong told government broadcaster RTHK.

"He hasn't thrown anything, hurt police, or burned anything."

Unsupported charges

Hong Kong lawmaker James To said it is important that police show sufficient evidence to support the charges of "rioting," as not everyone at the scene was there with similar intent.

"It's important to show clear evidence of exactly what the defendant did at the scene, while others were committing acts of violence," To said.

"For example, if other people are throwing bricks and you are right there helping them, then the court is able to say that you all had similar intentions."

The riots came amid growing tensions between mainland China and post-1997 Hong Kong, where many feel the city is in danger of losing its distinctive way of life and traditional freedoms in the face of growing encroachment by Beijing.

Media controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party have hit out at the localist movement as a form of pro-independence activism by "dangerous radicals," and have repeatedly tried to launch "patriotic education" classes in Hong Kong schools, sparking further protests.

On Thursday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei echoed the wording used by Hong Kong officials to describe Monday night's violence, describing it as "a riot plotted mainly by local radical separatist organizations."

Beijing also characterized the 2014 Occupy Central movement, during which student-led protesters camped out en masse on Hong Kong's streets in a campaign for fully democratic elections, as influenced by "hostile overseas forces."

Localist protests have taken a number of forms, including resistance to "patriotic education," protests against mainland Chinese bulk traders from across the internal immigration border buying up goods in Hong Kong, and the booing of the Chinese national anthem by Hong Kong football fans.

In "10 Years," a recent dystopian movie by independent Hong Kong directors, "local" is designated a forbidden expression by the Communist Party's thought police, while Cantonese, the city's lingua franca, is suppressed in favor of Mandarin.

Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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