Two of the 28 men arrested over an attack on anti-government protesters at a Hong Kong railway station have been charged with taking part in a riot, police said on Thursday.
The charges were the first in relation to last month’s incident. The force said the two men, aged 48 and 54, would appear in Fanling Court on Friday.
The pair were among 28 suspects arrested for unlawful assembly between July 22 and August 15 following the attack at Yuen Long MTR station on July 21 in which at least 45 people were injured.
More than 100 armed men wearing white T-shirts targeted black-clad protesters returning from an anti-government rally late on July 21. Other passengers were also attacked.
The other suspects – who, like the newly charged pair, were arrested on the less serious charge of unlawful assembly – had been released on bail pending further investigation. Rioting carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail, while unlawful assembly sentences are capped at five years.
The charges were laid against the two men after Senior Superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah of the organised crime and triad bureau told the police daily press conference on Wednesday that the force was working with the Department of Justice to decide what charge, if any, would be appropriate.
Police had been criticised for a perceived slow response – officers took 39 minutes to reach the scene of the attack – and the long investigation time.
The delayed response also sparked accusations that the force had colluded with attackers. Police said resources had been stretched that night by the protest, and clashes taking place in other districts.
At least two of the 28 men, who included rural strongmen and suspected triad members, were picked up at Hong Kong International Airport as they tried to flee the city.
The last suspect was picked up in Tin Shui Wai on August 15.
Chief Superintendent John Tse Chun-chung of the police public relations branch said on Thursday the rioting charge was pressed on the two men after discussions with the justice department, having considered information and the different degrees of participation of the accused.
He said the force was still seeking legal advice from the department on the cases of the others arrested.
“I can say that progress of the investigation varies from one case to another. It takes a lot of time to collect evidence before we can decide on an appropriate charge on each arrested person.”
The two men were the first among the 28 to be formally charged by police after the incident. The charges came after anti-government protesters staged a sit-in at the railway station on Wednesday night to mark one month since the attack.
The sit-in descended into a confrontation in which a group of protesters set up barricades on main roads outside the station. After repeated warnings, police conducted a dispersal operation.
Tse said that during the operation, police used pepper spray and fired one rubber bullet as some radical protesters threw a rubbish bin and other objects from a footbridge at officers on the ground. Two men, aged 27 and 36, were arrested for unlawful assembly.
“Our message has always been clear: if protesters don’t use violence, we won’t use force,” Tse said.
Protesters, however, said the prosecution decision came too late.
A masked protester who identified himself as Peter during a “citizens’ press conference” on Thursday said the public had already lost its trust in the force.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong hotel workers paying price for protests as Mira, InterContinental force staff to take leave
- Chaos at Hong Kong’s Yuen Long MTR station as protesters confront police while marking one month since mob attack