First charges against Hong Kong anti-government protester

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A Hong Kong street artist was charged on Friday with assaulting a police officer and criminal damage, the first prosecution against an anti-government protester since the city was rocked by unprecedented demonstrations.

Sparked by a law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, the city has witnessed three huge peaceful rallies as well as civil disobedience and violence from a hard core of younger protesters who have besieged the police headquarters, and on Monday stormed and ransacked the city’s parliament.

Authorities have vowed to hunt those behind the unrest that has plunged the semi-autonomous city’s Beijing-backed government into crisis.

Pun Ho-chiu, 31, appeared in court on Friday over his alleged involvement in the blockade of the city’s police headquarters on 21 June.

He was also charged with disorderly behaviour for throwing eggs at police outside the headquarters during the six-hour siege.

A well-known activist nicknamed “Painter” for his street art, Pun was remanded into custody and faces up to ten years in jail if convicted.

Forensic investigators have been combing through the trashed parliament for fingerprint and DNA evidence that might help them uncover which protesters were involved in the breach that left the building wrecked, its walls daubed with slogans such as “HK is not China” and a colonial era flag pinned to the legislature’s podium.

Police have yet to release a tally on how many have been arrested over the month of protests but local media have reported dozens have been detained so far.

The protests present the most severe challenge to Beijing and Hong Kong’s leaders since the city’s handover to China.

Critics say Beijing has ratcheted up control over the city in recent years, stamping down on dissidents and refusing calls for universal suffrage.

While the current protests were sparked by huge public opposition to the extradition bill they have since morphed into a broad anti-government movement.

City leader Carrie Lam has postponed the legislation but has failed to quell public anger.

Protesters have demanded she withdraw the bill entirely, launch an independent inquiry into police use of tear gas and rubber bullets, and for her to step down.

Since the parliament siege Beijing has vocally thrown its support behind Lam, calling on Hong Kong authorities to pursue all those involved in the ransacking.

Multiple university student groups confirmed they had rejected an approach this week by Lam’s administration for closed door talks arguing it was “too little, too late”.

The students said they would only agree to talks if the government granted an amnesty to those arrested and held the dialogue in public.

Lam led talks with student leaders during the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests that occupied parts of the city for two months but failed to win any concessions from Beijing.