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Allegations of Hong Kong Police Force misconduct surrounding the 2019 Hong Kong protests

This a list of allegations of misconduct by the Hong Kong Police Force during the 2019 Hong Kong protests.

Contents

Unlawful use of forceEdit

Since 12 June, the police's use of force was frequently criticised. Amnesty International published a report on 21 June, which contained eight video clips, and concluded that the police's use of force violated "international law". Police were criticised by the organisation for using rubber bullets dangerously, and using pepper spray on a person who posed no obvious threat. The use of force on peaceful or retreating protesters was condemned.[1] The usage of bean bag rounds, allegedly ruptured a female protester's right eye.[2] The police denied shooting the protester in the face and held that evidence was not yet conclusive.[3] Police officers were seen kneeling on the neck of a protester while subduing him.[4] On August 11, the police was also accused of performing "an "execution-style shooting", as described by Hong Kong Free Press, inside Tai Koo station, as the police fired guns with pepper ball rounds and targeted protesters within a very close range. The police claimed that its use of the weapon aligned with the manufacturer's safety guidelines, though its safety warning also pointed out that weapons users should not use the weapon at a point-blank range.[5]

The police's use of force was also accused of disregarding the safety of the members of the public. For instance, when the police stormed into New Town Plaza and Yuen Long station on July 14 and July 28 respectively, it also trapped bystanders and commuters inside. Police was also accused of beating uninvolved bystanders with police batons.[6] In the Reclaim Sheung Shui protest, a youth attempted to jump off a bridge when he was chased by officers, though it is unsure if the youth has joined the protest.[7] In the Tsuen Wan protest, a police officer kicked a man who was already kneeling before the officer.[8] When the STS squad stormed the Prince Edward station and assaulted the passengers and protesters inside with police baton and pepper spray on August 31, it was once again accused of using excessive force against unarmed and non-resisting citizens and innocent commuters.[9] The police's action was heavily condemned by the pan-democratic camp, whose convenor, Claudia Mo, called it a "licensed terror attack", and Amnesty International, who called the police's operation that day as "rampage", and called for a investigation on police's conduct.[10][11]

During the protests, the police were accused of at times not giving warning before using force,[12] or not giving protesters and the press sufficient time to retreat. Some protesters accused the police had displayed their warning flags in places they could not see clearly.[13]

The Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) has launched investigations into alleged police misconducts in the protests,[14] although the protesters call for forming an independent commission of inquiry, as the members of the IPCC are mainly pro-establishment.[15] Responding to the situation in Hong Kong, United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet demanded the Hong Kong government to conduct "prompt, independent, impartial investigation" on the police's use of force against the protesters.[16]

Misuse of teargasEdit

The police's use of tear gas on a group of protesters near the CITIC Tower "may have caused" a stampede, according to pan-democratic Legislative Councilors.[17] Because many protests occurred near residential areas, the police's use of tear gas often affected innocent bystanders, children, elderly and pets, and often angered nearby residents.[18][19] During the Reclaim Yuen Long protest, tear gas was shot near an elderly home.[20] Media questioned why the police fired canisters of tear gas on empty roads after the protestors had retreated or dispersed already. The police defended themselves, saying that it was necessary to create safe buffer.[21]

Several video clips captured tear gas canisters seemingly being fired from high up of the Government Headquarters, which was described as "problematic" and potentially lethal by Police Foundation's current president Jim Bueermann.[13][22] The police denied the accusation, claiming the canisters filmed was the "visual illusion" of canisters fired from lower levels.[23] Police also shot sponge grenades from the rooftop of Kwun Tong police station without warning on August 4. Activists claimed that it may increase the risk of shooting a person's head or upper trunk, which was against international safety guidelines.[24]

It was alleged that tear gas was at times utilized as an offensive weapon, and some teargas canisters struck protesters, causing burns and blunt force traumas. Such usage of the weapon was in violation of the manufacturer's guidelines.[9] On 5 August in Sham Shui Po, freelance journalist Ryan Lai was hit in the head by a teargas canister while filming protests outside of the police station.[25] On 10 August in Tsim Sha Tsui, a Dutch man was hit by two tear gas canisters while filming police actions outside of a police station. He suffered injuries to his stomach and right arm, including burns, bruises, and swelling.[26] The 11 August deployment of tear gas indoors at Kwai Tsing station was also condemned by experts, as indoor use may cause a stampede and the concentrated substances may pose severe health risks without proper ventilation.[27] Media was concerned about the use of tear gas as it may harm innocent commuters, and accused the police, who called the station a "semi-open space", for creating a "gas chamber".[28]

Since 28 July, civilians and protesters have collected spent canisters[29] and found that some tear gas used were expired. On 12 August, the Hong Kong Police Force admitted that they had used "canisters of tear gas past their use-by date". Karen Mak, a lecturer from University of Hong Kong, told RTHK that expired tear gas, upon heating, may produce toxic gases such as phosgene and cyanide,[30] though the Hong Kong police insisted that the expired tear gas would not induce additional harmful effects.[31]

Inconsistent law enforcementEdit

During the 1 July march, when protesters stormed the Legislative Council Complex, they were met with little to no police resistance. When protesters stormed inside the building, they vandalised the interiors and defaced the emblem. The police retreated after the protesters broke in, which has prompted accusation of selective enforcement. The police's inaction was criticized by pan-democracy politicians to be an effort by the government to "discredit" the protesters and damage their image, whereas pro-establishment lawmaker Michael Tien praised the police's "restrained approach".[32][33]

The police's slow responses towards the Yuen Long station attackers, where they arrived 39 minutes after initial calls for help, was criticised. Police reported they received an unusually large volume of 999 calls at the time of the attack. The citizens were not able to request help from the nearby police station because the police shut the gates of the police station nearby.[34] The fact that no one was immediately arrested after the event triggered public outcry, and sparked accusations that the police have colluded with triads.[35] Officers in riot gear surrounded the Nam Pin Wai Village but took no action against the white-clad men inside after making inquiries.[36] Superintendent Yau Nai-keung claimed that no offensive weapon was found. Reports claimed to have media footages showing a white-clad man holding a metal bar standing next to police officers.[37] When protesters were attacked by men armed in rots in North Point and Tsuen Wan again on 5 August, the police's response was once again condemned as "slow". Conflicts lasted for nearly half an hour; the protesters fought off the out-numbered men before the police arrived, according to some reports.[38]

The police were accused of arresting first aiders with false accusations, which prompted hospital staffs to stage sit-ins to protest against their decision. The police was also accused of obstructing emergency medical treatment for the arrested protesters.[39] For instance, the police prevented first-aiders from treating the wounded after the police stormed and locked down Prince Edward station on August 31. Legislator and medical professional Kwok Ka-ki called the police's behavior as a "behaviour unbefitting of monsters".[11] During the 12 June protests, eyewitnesses claimed that tear gas was fired at a volunteer first-aid station.[40]

Mistreatment of the detaineesEdit

On August 20, Legislator Lam Cheuk-ting held a press conference showing graphic video footage recorded in a “disturbed patient room” at North District Hospital, where three police officers punched the genitals of a 62-year old man restrained on bed for drunken behaviours, and poke and prod the man using their batons. The man, not a protester,[41] reportedly shouted "corrupt cops" at the police before his arrest.[42] During the July protest in Sheung Wan, an officer was seen kicking the face of an already subdued arrestee, though the police denied.[43]

The police were also accused of sexually abusing protesters. In Tin Shui Wai, the crotch of a female protester was exposed during the arrest process. The female protester in question also alleged that an officer verbally abused her, calling her "prostitute". A female protester also accused police officers of conducting a glove-less strip search on her and allegedly using a pen to spread her legs open.[44] The police denied the accusation.[45] According to a survey conducted by Association Concerning Sexual Violence Against Women, 23 women out of 221 respondents blamed the police for sexually harassing them, eight of which reported that they suffered sexual violence while they were in detention.[46]

Some detainees reported that the police had denied them access to lawyers.[47]

Interfering with press freedomEdit

The police were accused of obstructing press freedom by obstructing reporters from taking photographs by shining flashing lights at them.[48] According to Hong Kong Journalists Association, the press were jostled away "deliberately" by the police even after they have disclosed their identities.[49] On 6 August, a reporter from Tai Kung Pao was temporarily detained by the police for assaulting a police officer, though he was released shortly afterward.[50] During the August 31 protests, police refused to let reporters enter Prince Edward station, which the HKJA condemned as an infringement of their rights. Journalists were also surrounded by uniformed officers and they were prevented from asking suspected undercover officers questions.[51]

The police's use of force threatened the safety of journalists. During the protests, police used pepper spray and tear gas on journalists, leading to injuries. Their equipment was also damaged by the police. Due to sustained exposure to tear gas, some journalists reported having symptoms such as breathing difficulty and persistent coughing.[30] The HKJA staged a silent march against police brutality on 14 July which attracted 1,500 people, and the association had already filed at least 10 complaints relating to these injuries to the Independent Police Complaints Council.[52][53]

Lack of identificationEdit

Members of the Special Tactical Squad did not display identification numbers during the clashes with the protestors on 12 June. Secretary of Justice John Lee explained that the uniform had "no room" for displaying the identification numbers, though he was rebuked by Legislator Lam Cheuk-ting when he pointed out that the numbers were displayed on the uniform during the 9 June protests. The democrats criticized the lack of identification, saying that by allowing officers to hide their identification number would encourage officers to abuse their power.[54]

During the 7 July Kowloon protest, Many officers were not wearing their warrant cards. A man with a police helmet and shield, believed to be a plain-clothed officer, did not show his warrant card when requested, though such an action was against police's guidelines for plain-clothes officers.[54][55]

Vice-president of IPCC, Christopher Cheung Wah-fung claimed that members of the STS squad could hide their identification number, stating "Those officers have to enforce laws without having to worry about the consequences." He backtracked his claim a day later after being criticised while expressing fears that officers' identification numbers may be misused.[56]

Questionable tacticsEdit

During the 14 July protest in Sha Tin, conflicts broke out inside New Town Plaza after the police stormed the plaza and prevented people inside from leaving. Civil right groups and pan-democratic councillors criticised the police for kettling the protesters, in which the police confined protesters in a small area without leaving any exit route. The Civil Rights Observer criticised the police's tactic for risking the safety of other bystanders who were also kettled by the police,[57] while councillor Claudia Mo added that the tactic may have led protesters to become more hostile and aggressive.[58] Lawyers pointed out that the police's operation to disperse the crowds in the mall without the consent of Sun Hung Kai Properties violated of the Police General Orders.[59]

The police were also accused of using undercover officers to infiltrate the protesters. These officers refused to show their identification numbers when they were approached by journalists. Deputy police chief Chris Tang admitted that the Force had deployed undercover cops who were disguised as various "characters", but he refused to disclose how many agents were involved. However, such tactic also meant that the undercover police officers may need to break the law with the protesters in order to earn their trust.[60] The police was found deploying undercover officers during the August 31 protest, one of them fired a warning shot. Police claimed that the undercover officer has identified himself before shooting.[61]

The police were also accused of tampering with evidence. When Fong Chung-yin was arrested for possessing "offensive weapons", which were found to be unpowered laser pointers, police officers inserted batteries into his laser pointers to show to the press that laser pointers can cause a fire. The press expressed concern that the police had interfered with the judicial process.[62] The arrest of a protester on 11 August, during which a police officer was found putting a stick inside his backpack, was filmed. The police force was accused of planting evidence to frame the protester. The police denied the accusation, saying that the protester had held the stick before he was arrested.[63]

White terrorEdit

The Hong Kong Police Force has been accused of spreading white terror. It has conducted hospital arrests, which had prompted protesters to become reluctant to go for treatment in public hospital. Pierre Chan, the lawmaker representing the Medical sector, claimed that residents injured in the protests had opted not to go for treatment as they feared they may get arrested by the police. He further added that medical professionals may also be charged by the police for offering treatment to the wounded.[64]

The police banned the Reclaim Yuen Long protest on 27 July due to fear that protesters may clash with the local villagers.[65] However, after the protest, the police continued to ban marches in various places in Hong Kong. On 18 August, CHRF held an approved rally at Victoria Park, and went ahead with an unpermitted march, in which over 1 million people attended. The demonstration was largely peaceful and CHRF filed a judicial review challenging the police decision to ban the demonstration.[66] As police rarely banned marches, CHRF representatives criticised the police's recent bans, and alleged that the refusal to issue permits had eroded Hong Kong's freedom of demonstration.[67] Lawyers representing the organisers of a banned rally in Tsim Sha Tsui also claimed that denying citizens the rights to demonstrate may lead to escalation.[68]

On August 29 and August 30, just a day before the proposed August 31 march, the Police Force arrested at least eigh high-profile activists including Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Andy Chan, as well as lawmakers including Cheng Chung-tai, Au Nok-hin and Jeremy Tam Man-ho.[69] Demosisto's vice-chairperson Isaac Cheng condemned the police for rounding up various activists to frighten Hong Kong people into not protesting, even though these protests have been leaderless.[70] .

Personal conduct of officersEdit

Police officers were accused of verbally assaulting protesters, journalists and hospital staff.[71][citation needed] During the Kowloon protest, an officer also provoked protesters, asking them to "brawl" with him.[72] During the Reclaim Yuen Long protest, an officer allegedly modified the end of his police baton with a plastic strap, though the police denied, saying that the strap only slipped to the front of the baton.[73] The Junior Police Officers’ Association accused protesters of desecrating the graves of lawmaker Junius Ho's parents, calling those who vandalised the burial site "cockroaches."[74] In another statement, the Association denounced acts of violence by protesters and labeled the accused demonstrators "cockroaches."[75] The police's public relations branch distanced itself from these claims.[76] The usage of the term has been historically controversial, used to describe people seen as inferior during both World War II and the Rwandan genocide.[77]

ReferencesEdit

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