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Hong Kong Court Releases 11 of 14 WTO Protesters


A Hong Kong court has dropped charges against 11 protesters, mostly South Koreans, detained after a violent demonstration during the World Trade Organization meeting last month. Three South Koreans still face trial in March for illegal assembly.

The 14 protesters, mostly from South Korea, were among those rounded up December 17 after attempting to storm the venue of the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting.

Scuffles between the protesters and police led to 137 people being injured, including 67 police officers. Those involved in the violent protests were largely farmers opposed to trade liberalization.

Charges against 11 of the 14 were dismissed Wednesday, leaving only three South Koreans still facing prosecution. Those final three were released on bail and their trial is scheduled for March. They could be sentenced to up to five years in prison if convicted of illegal assembly.

Emerging from court Wednesday, the protesters and their supporters shouted "Down, down WTO!"

In a statement, they vowed to continue their fight against WTO policies and trade liberalization, which they say are destroying their livelihood.

Mabel Au, spokeswoman for the Hong Kong People's Alliance Against the WTO - the local coordinator of the protests - said her organization welcomed the release.

"We're pleased that people are free and they can go home. But I still have to say that they should not have been arrested and detained for so long in the first place," she said.

South Korean diplomats and celebrities had appealed to the Hong Kong government in recent weeks for the protesters' release. Eleven protesters started a hunger strike on Thursday to highlight their claim that they were innocent.

Those released Wednesday included a Taiwan resident, one Japanese, and a Chinese citizen.