Charges have been dropped against eleven of the fourteen people charged with "unlawful assembly" during protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Hong Kong last month.

This was the outcome of the court hearing in Hong Kong on Wednesday, 11 January. Supporters of the accused WTO protesters, twelve of whom had been staging a hunger strike since Friday 5 January, cheered loudly and vowed to continue their campaign for the remaining accused - three South Koreans – charged with staging an illegal demonstration within metres of the WTO ministerial meeting on 17 December.

Campaign vindicated

The eleven whose charges were dropped included eight Koreans, one Japanese, one Taiwanese and a mainland Chinese citizen. Their release completely vindicates the defence campaign on their behalf waged by trade unions in South Korea and Hong Kong, and enjoying significant international support. This campaign has insisted all along that the prosecution case has merely been an attempt to justify the excessive use of force by Hong Kong police against anti-WTO protesters. On the night of 17 December, police made more than 900 arrests, later singling out 14 demonstrators in order to establish a legal pretext for their action.

The three remaining defendants, Yang Kyung Kyu, Park In Hwan and Yun Il Kwan, entered defiant pleas of not guilty and vowed to prove their innocence. Two of them face charges of unlawful assembly, which can result in jail sentences of up to five years. The charge against Yang Kyung Kyu, a member of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) was downgraded to “unauthorised assembly”, although this carries the same maximum punishment. sh;"Furious with Hong Kong authorities" Speaking outside the courtroom, Yang was defiant. "The clash was caused by police," he said. "We are furious that the Hong Kong authorities did not drop all charges. The fact that eleven were released without any charges shows that the police are pursuing this on a political basis, rather than on the evidence. "The hollowness of the prosecution’s case is illustrated by the charges against Korean Peasant League member, Yun Il Kwan, who admits to throwing mud at police officers, but has been charged - falsely - with using a wooden plank to hit policemen! Rather than a little mud, police doused demonstrators with sewage water, pepper spray and later fired tear gas and so-called ’beanbag’ pellet rounds into the crowd.

Amnesty International "very concerned"

Amnesty International in Hong Kong have demanded an independent Legco (Legislative Council) investigation into the events, saying that the promised police inquiry was not enough. A spokesman for the group stated that the use of the Public Order Ordinance to justify the arrests of 900 people during the anti-WTO protests was a threat to Hong Kong’s freedom of expression. These developments came after allegations were confirmed that the police used “beanbag” rounds against protesters. Initially, the police refused to confirm reports that these controversial weapons had been deployed until photographic evidence and corroborated reports by eyewitnesses forced them to come clean.

"I was holding a banner and a police officer grabbed it from my hands and threw it on the ground. I wasn’t doing anything", said an eyewitness Pang Litsing. According to Pang, a Hong Kong resident, the police provoked the protesters and then over-reacted with water cannon and tear gas.

Details for sending messages of solidarity and protests see article on chinaworker.org

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