Twelve defendants charged with trespassing in Hong Kong’s legislature during anti-government protests last year will face new counts of rioting when prosecutors apply to step up their allegations on Wednesday, according to sources.
The defendants affected include actor Gregory Wong Chung-yiu, protest organiser Ventus Lau Wing-hong and former student leader Althea Suen.
They were among the protesters accused of storming the Legislative Council on the night of July 1, when unrest broke out as the city marked the anniversary of the 1997 handover from British to Chinese rule.
The three said on their social media accounts that they learned of the new accusations on Tuesday, a year to the day of the first mass protest triggered by the now-withdrawn extradition bill.
The dozen are among 15 protesters accused of illegally entering the Legco chamber. Each of them was previously charged with one count of entering or remaining in precincts of chamber, with two facing additional counts of criminal damage and taking part in an unlawful assembly.
Prosecutors are expected to lay one count of rioting to 11 defendants on top of the existing allegations when the case is heard at Eastern Court on Wednesday, according to a prosecution filing.
Another protester, 32-year-old Pun Ho-chiu, will face five amended counts, including two counts of rioting, and one count each of taking part in an unlawful assembly, criminal damage and illegal entry in Legco.
Their cases would be consolidated and transferred to the District Court for plea, the filing said.
The filing also revealed that prosecutors would drop their allegation against 30-year-old Chow Lok-him, who faced one count of illegally entering the legislature.
One count of criminal damage against Wong Ka-ho, 21, would also be withdrawn, it said, but he would still face rioting and trespass allegations.
It did not suggest taking any action against two remaining defendants, including Brian Leung Kai-ping, the protester known for reading out a statement unmasked inside Legco and who went to the United States to study after the incident.
While trespass on the precincts of the legislature’s chamber is punishable by three months in jail, taking part in a riot can result in seven years of prison when the case is handled at the District Court.
Lau, a spokesman for Hong Kong Civil Assembly Team, said he was not surprised by the new charges, and believed prosecutors brought in the more serious offence to deter protesters from rallying against the government one year after the outbreak of the protests.
“[Prosecutors] may be trying to create terror among residents ... and discourage them from taking to the streets again,” Lau said.
Wong, the actor, said on his Facebook page the amendment was to scare people away from protests.
Leung said on his Twitter account that he had made up his mind, and even bought a ticket, to return to Hong Kong to face the trespass allegation, but was hanging back because of the new riot charge against the 12 defendants.
A justice department spokesman refused to comment, citing ongoing legal proceedings.
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This article Hong Kong protests: 12 defendants accused of storming Legislative Council face new riot charges first appeared on South China Morning Post