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Police misconduct allegations during the 2019 Hong Kong protests

The Hong Kong Police Force has faced several media-reported allegations of misconduct during the 2019 Hong Kong protests.

The Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) has launched investigations into alleged police misconduct in the protests,[1] although protesters have called for the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry.[2] Responding to the situation in Hong Kong, United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, demanded the Hong Kong government to conduct a "prompt, independent, impartial investigation" on the police's use of force against protesters.[3] As the protests escalated, some protesters called for disbandment of the police force.[4]

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 human rights laws and standards".[5] Subsequent reports by Amnesty International and interviews with protesters have alleged that the police force used excessive violence, including baton strikes, even in instances with no active resistance. Out of 21 people interviewed, 18 were hospitalised, including 5 that stayed for a long period of time.[6]

The police were criticized by the organisation for using rubber bullets dangerously (by using it as a crowd dispersal weapon and injuring a protester's head on June 12)[5] During a confrontation with students from the City University of Hong Kong, the commander of the police force allegedly ordered the police officers to shoot the student protesters in the head with rubber bullets.[7] The police was also criticized for using pepper spray on a person who posed no obvious threat, and the use of force on peaceful or retreating protesters was condemned.[8] The usage of bean bag rounds allegedly ruptured a female protester's right eye on August 11.[9] The police denied shooting the protester in the head and suggested that evidence was not conclusive.[10] However, on September 29, the right eye of journalist Veby Mega Indah was permanently blinded after she was shot by a rubber bullet.[11] On 11 August, the police fired guns with pepper ball rounds and targeted protesters in a point blank range inside Tai Koo MTR station. The police claimed that its use of the weapon aligned with the manufacturer's safety guidelines, though in fact the safety warning pointed out that the weapon users should not use the weapon in a point-blank range.[12]

Hong Kong police storm Prince Edward station and attack civilians on 31 August 2019

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 14 and 27 July, respectively, they also trapped bystanders and commuters inside. Police officers were also accused of beating uninvolved bystanders with police batons.[13] In the Tsuen Wan protest, a police officer kicked a man who was already kneeling before the officer.[14] When the STS squad stormed the Prince Edward station and assaulted the passengers and protesters inside with police baton and pepper spray on 31 August, it was once again accused of using excessive force against unarmed and non-resisting citizens and innocent commuters.[15] 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.[16][17]

External video
  Footage of the 1 October shooting incident (HKFP)

On 1 October 2019, a police officer shot a young man wielding a pipe with live ammo at a point blank range with a revolver.[18][19] This incident happened as the man struck the police officer who ran in with a drawn revolver to retrieve another officer chased and beaten to the ground by a crowd of protesters wielding pipes.[18][19] Protesters accused the officer for trying to kill the man because his left chest, which was close to his heart, was shot. They claimed that the force used by the protesters was not sufficient to justify the use of live ammo and that the officer had less lethal weapons at his disposal. The police defended the officer's actions, saying that the officer and his colleague's lives were at risk.[20][21][22][23] On 14 October 2019, Hong Kong police shot a 14-year old child in the leg with a live round. The boy was taken to Pok Oi Hospital and was conscious on arrival.[24] Police claim that the shot was meant to have been fired into the air and that the shooting was accidental.[25] The third shooting incident occurred in Sai Wan Ho, near Tai On Building. A traffic warden drew his service weapon at an unarmed white-clad man near a roadblock and then grappled him. He then shot a black-clad protester. The police accused the man of trying to grab the service weapon from his possession. The 21-year-old man's liver and kidney were injured and he required cardiopulmonary resuscitation as his heart stopped beating for a while. He was then admitted to Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital. Another protester was shot but he did not need any emergency operation.[26][27] On 17 November 2019, during a clash between the Hong Kong Police and the protestors in the area around Hong Kong Polytechnic University, long-range sound device was used and threatened that live rounds will be used when they face "deadly weapons".[28] Raptors were being found to be equipped with AR-15 and patrolled around the clashed areas.[29] Many first-aid volunteers were being arrested, which has threatened the humanitarian ethics.

Misuse of teargasEdit

 
The police used tear gas to disperse the protesters

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.[30] 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.[31][32] Tear gas canisters have since been shot near an elderly home,[33] and on the corridor of a public housing estate, causing public outrage.[34] Media questioned why the police fired canisters of tear gas on empty roads after the protestors had retreated or dispersed already.[35] The police defended themselves, saying that it was necessary to create safe buffer.[36]

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.[37][38] The police denied the accusation, claiming the canisters filmed was the "visual illusion" of canisters fired from lower levels.[39] Police also shot sponge grenades from the rooftop of Kwun Tong police station without warning on 4 August. Activists claimed that it may increase the risk of shooting a person's head or upper trunk, which was against international safety guidelines.[40]

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.[41] 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".[42]

Since 28 July, civilians and protesters have collected spent canisters[43] 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,[44] though the Hong Kong police insisted that the expired tear gas would not induce additional harmful effects.[45]

Citizens have been directly hit and injured by exploding tear gas canisters. On 2 November, a volunteer medic was struck and seriously burned. The medic, a student of Hong Kong Shue Yan University (SYU), did not have a gas mask and was surrounded only by journalists and other medics at the time of the incident. The university expressed "serious concern" over the incident and requested details from the police, as SYU students rallied in support of the injured medic and condemned police violence.[46][47]

The police have fired more than 10,000 volleys of tear gas in the five months since the protests began in June 2019. This has sparked public health concerns as citizens feared that tear gas, upon heating, may release dioxin.[48] The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department have refused to disclose the chemical composition of the gas as the police wished to keep it secret.[49] A reporter was diagnosed with chloracne, a condition associated with over-exposure to dioxins, following sustained exposure to tear gas.[50] The Environmental Protection Department suggested that they have not found any anomalies in the air's dioxin concentration level. Secretary Wong Kam-sing commented that the burning of items by protesters would be the cause for any increase in dioxin concentration.[51]

The tear gas used after the United States of America stopped supplying to is made in the People's Republic of China, it has extremely high temperatures that could even melt road pavements and is also confirmed to contain dangerous levels of Dioxin, which was also used in making the chemical weapon agent orange and cyanide, which led to fears that the next generation of Hongkongers might be born with disabilities similar to those in the aftermath of the Vietnam War

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 criticised 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".[52][53]

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.[54] The fact that no one was immediately arrested after the event triggered public outcry, and sparked accusations that the police have colluded with triads.[55] Officers in riot gear surrounded the Nam Pin Wai Village but took no action against the white-clad men inside after making inquiries.[56] 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.[57] 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.[58] None of the people responsible for these attacks were arrested as of November 2019

Pan-democrats also criticised the police for upholding a "double standard" in law enforcement, where they use excessive force to subdue young and often peaceful protesters while showing leniency to violent counter-protesters and even not carry out any arrests against them. They cited an incident where a suspect was allowed to use a police shield to hide his identity as an example. The police denied the accusation.[59]

Delaying first-aid servicesEdit

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 were also accused of obstructing emergency medical treatment for the arrested protesters.[60] For instance, the police prevented first-aiders from treating the wounded after the police stormed and locked down Prince Edward station on 31 August. Legislator and medical professional Kwok Ka-ki called the police's behaviour as a "behaviour unbefitting of monsters".[17]

After university student Chow Tsz-lok fell from 3/F to 2/F during a police dispersal operation in Tseung Kwan O, the police was accused of obstructing paramedics from attending to him and allegedly pointing guns at the first-aiders, resulting in a delay of about 30 minutes in treatment. Chow succumbed to a cardiac arrest and died four days later.[61][62] Leung Kwok-lai, the Fire Services Department Assistant Chief Ambulance Officer (Kowloon East), however, stated that the ambulance assigned to Chow was blocked by buses and private vehicles but that the ambulance did not come in contact with the police that were on duty.[63]

The police arrested 51 volunteer medics during the siege of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.[64] Darren Mann, a medic writing for Lancet called the police's arrests of these first-aiders "almost unheard of in civilised countries". With PolyU under complete lockdown, the protesters who was wounded inside lacked any form of first-aid service, prompting Red Cross and Medecins Sans Frontieres to offer medical and humanitarian aids.[65]

Mistreatment of detaineesEdit

 
Hong Kong police detain protesters

During the July protest in Sheung Wan, an officer accused of kicking the face of a protester after they had been subdued, the police denied this allegation.[66] A police officer was accused of using an arrestee as a human shield to support his gun when he was confronted by another group of protester during the anti-CCP protest on September 29.[67] Police officers were seen kneeling on the neck of a protester while subduing him.[68] An undercover officer was found pressing a demonstrator's face to the ground while arresting him on 11 August 2019,[69] causing him to lose an incisor.[70] Video footage showed a police officer stomping on the head of a subdued protester during the siege of Hong Kong Polytechnic University in November 2019.[71] The police was often found dragging already subdued protesters. The police defended the tactic, saying that the protesters were "unwilling" to walk.[72]

In an incident on 21 September in Yuen Long of which video recordings circulated widely, the police were accused of kicking an arrested but defenceless volunteer from the Protect Our Kids group after he was brought to an alley and surrounded by about 30 riot police officers.[73] According to The Guardian, the incident started when the "Protect Our Kids" volunteer shouted at a police officer who pepper-sprayed a 73-year-old member of the group. Kenneth Ip, a group member, stated that the volunteer "didn't actually touch any of [the police]". The police pulled the volunteer inside the police line. The volunteer was taken to hospital after being in the midst of the group of police.[74] In response to the allegation, the police stated that the video evidence was unclear and all they could confirm was that officers kicked a "yellow object."[75] Police later confirmed that the "object" in the video was a man but denied officers kicked him.[76] Claudia Mo condemned Vasco Williams' claim for dehumanizing the protesters.[77] Another incident happened in San Po Kong when several riot police officers surrounded a subdued protesters, kicking and punching him. They were stopped when a resident living nearby threw a coffee cup from their apartment to stop them. A third incident happened in Yau Ma Tei. An officer kicked and assaulted a subdued protester with police baton until he was stopped by his colleagues.[78] Similar event happened during the 2014 Hong Kong protests, when seven police officers assaulted a subdued activist, some of which were convicted and sentenced to prison.[79]

Amnesty International released a statement saying that the police had used "retaliatory violence against arrested persons in custody" and described some of these violent actions as "torture". For instance, a police officer was accused of shining laser into the eye of a detainee. Previously, the police have condemned protesters' use of laser pens to disrupt them.[80] Some detainees reported sustaining injuries ranging from head wounds to fractured arms following their arrests and some were admitted to hospital after their detention. An officer also allegedly threatened a detainee, saying that he will break his hands if he attempted to protect himself.[81] The police prevented lawmakers from inspecting the San Uk Ling Holding Centre, where many of the detainees were held.[82] The police stopped using the holding centre in order to "stop speculations".[76] Robert Godden, the cofounder of Rights Exposure, a British human rights group, reported that arrestees were deprived of sleep and had limited access to food. He also reported hearing "howls of pain" that had "went on for five minutes" during his time in detention inside a police station in Ho Man Tin.[83]

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.[84] The police denied the accusation.[85] A student from Chinese University of Hong Kong accused a male police of hitting her breast during her detention in the San Uk Ling Holding Centre and reported that other detainees "have suffered sexual assaults and torture by more than one officer, regardless of gender".[86] 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.[87]

Some detainees reported that the police had denied them access to lawyers.[88] Some lawyers have reported that the police have obstructed them from meeting their clients, and that they were reluctant to cooperate.[89]

Interfering with press freedomEdit

The police were accused of obstructing press freedom by obstructing reporters from taking photographs by shining flashing lights at them.[90] According to Hong Kong Journalists Association, the press were jostled away "deliberately" by the police including after they have disclosed their identities.[91] 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.[92] During the 31 August 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.[93] After the implementation of the anti-mask law, officers were found forcefully removing the respirators and the masks of reporters, despite the fact that Secretary John Lee had previously claimed that reporters were exempted from the law.[94]

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. Some were also shot by rubber bullets, or sprayed by the water cannon trucks.[95][96] 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.[44] 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.[97][98] Indonesian journalist Veby Mega Indah's right eye was permanently blinded after she was shot by a rubber bullet.[11]

On 28 October 2019, Hong Kong Free Press photojournalist May James was arrested while working in Mong Kok. Hong Kong Free Press called for her immediate release, stating that she had been wearing a press vest and was carrying a press pass and other credentials.[99] The arrest took place following an afternoon rally in Tsim Sha Tsui, as the police undertook an all-day operation on the Kowloon peninsula, during which they reportedly behaved violently toward other journalists.[100] James was subsequently released on bail without charge.[101]

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 criticised the lack of identification, saying that by allowing officers to hide their identification number would encourage officers to abuse their power.[102]

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.[102][103] Since the invocation of the emergency law, officers began covering their face with face masks, making identification even more difficult.[94] The police have defended the move, saying that it was a "protective gear".[104]

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.[105]

Protest control tacticsEdit

 
A water cannon being fired
 
The moment that the Police's water cannon attacked Kowloon Mosque on October 20, 2019. Around 10 followers and citizens were outside the Mosque.

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,[106] while councillor Claudia Mo added that the tactic may have led protesters to become more hostile and aggressive.[107] 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.[108] The police entered Amoy Garden and MOSTown to conduct arrests on September 13 and October 8 respectively, both without the management's consent.[109][110] During the October 30 protest, the police forcefully broke into Siu Hin Court where the police ordered residents to kneel down with their hands in the air or behind their backs at the lobby of Yat Sang House. Residents claimed that the police made them knelt for more than half an hour. On the same day, the police also forcefully pulled two shop owners out of their shop and then arrested them for obstruction after they have refused the police's entry and allegedly "danced" in front of them.[111]

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 tactics also meant that the undercover police officers may need to break the law alongside the radical protesters.[112][113] The police was found deploying undercover officers during the 31 August protest, one of them fired a warning shot. Police claimed that the undercover officer has identified himself before shooting.[114] Undercover officers have been accused of committing arson.[115] An officer dressing like a protester was found inside Sheung Shui station which was closed already at the time. After the officer realized that he was being recorded, he aimed his flashlight at the camera and threaten to pepper spray the cameraman. The police have since called him a "plainclothed officer" conducting an "investigation".[116]

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.[117] 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.[118]

On October 20, 2019, the police's clearance action, which saw blue-dyed water being sprayed on the gates of the Kowloon Mosque, led to condemnation from CHRF and the Muslim community in Hong Kong. The police and Chief Executive Carrie Lam have apologized to the Muslim leaders. However, the former Indian Association of Hong Kong president Mohan Chugani, who was sprayed outside the mosque alongside lawmaker Jeremy Tam and businessman Phillip Khan, refused to accept Lam's apology, while Khan believed that the police intentionally sprayed the mosque and that the act was an "insult to the Islamic religion".[119]

A traffic police officer was accused of driving his motorcycle into a crowd of protesters in Kwai Chung on November 11, resulting in 2 injuries.[120] The officer was then suspended from duty and the police explained that "[The motorcyclist] tried to separate his colleagues and the rioters" after an officer had temporarily lost his vision from protesters spraying an unknown substance in his face.[121] On 18 November, in Yau Ma Tei, a police van suddenly accelerated into a crowd of protesters, causing a stampede in which STS officers exiting from the van chased after protesters; the police defended the high-speed driving by their officers in general in that "[driving] fast doesn't mean it is unsafe".[122] The police denied the stampede but it was confirmed by the Fire Services Department.[123]

Climate of fearEdit

 
Police draws gun against protesters, then shot warning rounds to the sky

The Hong Kong Police Force has been accused of spreading a climate of fear.[according to whom?] 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.[124] The staff from Tuen Mun Hospital staged a sit-in on October 18 condemning the police for letting male officers to enter the hospital’s maternity ward and letting riot police equipped with gears and weapons to enter the hospital, disrupting its operations and scaring patients and staff.[125]

The police banned the Reclaim Yuen Long protest on 27 July due to fear that protesters may clash with the local villagers.[126] 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.[127] 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.[128] 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.[129]

On 29 and 30 August, just a day before the proposed 31 August March, the Police Force arrested at least eight high-profile activists including Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Andy Chan, as well as lawmakers including Cheng Chung-tai and Jeremy Tam Man-ho.[130] RTHK reported that Au Nok-hin was arrested for allegedly assaulting and obstructing a police officer during a protest on July 8, while Apple Daily reported that the lawmaker was accused of assaulting the officer with a megaphone that was "too loud".[131] 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.[132] The police were also accused of making arbitary arrests by the Amnesty International. Lawmaker Ted Hui added that the police, after failing to arrest the radical protesters, turned to arrest peaceful protesters, bystanders, young people in general and people wearing black clothes.[81]

Personal conduct of officersEdit

 
A photo showing officers using pistols in Wong Tai Sin.

Police officers were accused of verbally assaulting protesters and journalists.[133] On June 12, an officer insulted a pastor who was mediating the conflict between the protesters and the police, telling him to "ask your Jesus to come see me".[134] During the Kowloon protest, an officer also provoked protesters, asking them to "brawl" with him.[135] 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."[136] In another statement, the Association denounced acts of violence by protesters and labelled the accused demonstrators "cockroaches."[137] The police's public relations branch distanced itself from these claims.[138] The police also reprimanded an officer who yelled at protesters saying that he will celebrate Chow Tsz-lok's death "with champagne".[139]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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