Thirty-six mostly young protesters were given bail at Kowloon City Magistrates' Court after being charged with rioting following a clash between protesters and police over a crackdown on holiday street vendors in Mong Kok.
The 36 defendants, aged 17 to 70, were charged with taking part in a riot contrary to the Public Order Ordinance, a charge previously used only three times since 1970.
A 37th defendant, Tam Hiu-tung, 27, unemployed, was charged with unlawful assembly as there was not enough evidence to charge him with rioting.
Meanwhile, police said last night they arrested a 23-year-old man for unlawful assembly on Wednesday night and he was still being detained for further inquiries. That brings to 65 the number of arrests following the Mong Kok riot.
Scholarism member and Chinese University student Derek Lam Shun- hin, 22, and a 32-year-old, who are each on a holding charge of rioting, will appear in Kowloon City Magistrates' Court today.
Also today, 15-year-old boy will appear before the Kowloon City Juvenile Court.
In addition, 24 people arrested - 18 men and six women, aged 14 to 55 - have been released on police bail pending further investigation. They are requested to report back to police in mid-March.
Courtroom No 1 was packed with more than 100 supporters yesterday. They included foreigners, social activists such as Yau Wai-ching and Ken Tsang Kin-chiu and student leaders such as Scholarism convener Joshua Wong Chi-fung; Hong Kong University Students' Union president Billy Fung Jing-en; and Occupy student leader Yvonne Leung Lai-kwok. Many had to stand as all seats were filled.
Worker Lin Yun-faat, 25, complained to the court about sleep deprivation while being held for 40 hours in custody, claiming officers shouted when he was about to doze off.
Acting Chief Magistrate Peter Law Tak-chuen said: "The court is not the place for complaints about police but only handles complaints on judicial procedures." The 37 defendants were released on bail ranging from HK$500 to HK$20,000. The court also required them to stay at the addresses they reported to court, and banned them from stipulated areas in Mong Kok for public security, except for transport purposes. Hearings were adjourned to April 7.
Thirty of the 37 are aged under 30 and seven are students. They include University of Hong Kong student Edward Leung Tin-kei, a spokesman of localist group Hong Kong Indigenous, who will stand in the New Territories East by-election, and Stephen Ku Bok- him, the elected chief editor of HKU publication Undergrad.
Also charged were a Youngspiration member Chan Hei-man and Civic Passion member Chan Pak-yeung.
After the hearing, Edward Leung said funding for legal advice for the defendants is more important than the by-election.
A number of officers stood by near the court. Several dozen reporters surrounded the exit of the custody room but were met by an equal number of masked supporters, who formed a human wall to escort the defendants on their way to taxis covering their faces with clothes.
As reporters rushed the human wall, several clashes occurred.
Another pack of supporters waited by the taxis and used cardboard and clothes to cover the windows. A masked woman accused journalists of taking photos to aid the police.
Barrister Albert Luk Wai-hung said unlawful assembly involves an intention to breach the peace whereas riot involves unlawful assembly and actual breach of peace. Those convicted of taking part in riots face up to 10 years in jail.
At least 20 Vietnamese were charged with rioting following the Whitehead Detention Centre melee in 1989 and Shek Kong Vietnamese Detention Centre incident in 1992, while eight Hongkongers were charged after the Hei Ling Chau Drug Addiction Treatment Centre fracas in 2000.