This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
London-based rights group Amnesty International has hit out at the Hong Kong police over the “torture and other ill-treatment” of anti-extradition protesters in detention, as well as the reckless and indiscriminate use of force.
The group called for a prompt and independent investigation into police actions since protests escalated in early June, after gathering testimonies from more than 20 arrestees, as well as lawyers, health-care workers, and others.
It said police violations seemed to have escalated throughout the course of the anti-extradition movement, which has gripped the city with strikes, sit-ins, mass rallies, human chains, and marches in recent months.
“Hong Kong’s security forces have engaged in a disturbing pattern of reckless and unlawful tactics against people during the protests,” Amnesty International’s East Asia director Nicholas Bequelin said in a statement.
“This has included arbitrary arrests and retaliatory violence against arrested persons in custody, some of which has amounted to torture,” he said, adding: “The use of force was therefore clearly excessive, violating international human rights law.”
Police have arrested more than 1,300 people during the protests against planned amendments to extradition laws that would permit the rendition of alleged criminal suspects to face trial in mainland China.
Some detained protesters were severely beaten in custody and suffered other ill-treatment amounting to torture, the report said, with police violence occurring mostly before and during arrest.
“The abuse appears to have been meted out as ‘punishment’ for talking back or appearing uncooperative,” it said.
‘I couldn’t breathe’
One man detained at a police station following his arrest at a protest in the New Territories in August told Amnesty International researchers: “I felt my legs hit with something really hard. Then one [officer] flipped me over and put his knees on my chest. I felt the pain in my bones and couldn’t breathe. I tried to shout but I couldn’t breathe and couldn’t talk.”
The man was later hospitalized for several days with a bone fracture and internal bleeding, the report said.
And a man who was arrested in Sham Shui Po last month was threatened with electric shocks to his genitals after he refused to unlock his phone for inspection.
The same man witnessed police officers force a boy to shine a laser pen into his own eye for about 20 seconds.
“It seems he used the laser pen to shine at the police station,” the man said. “They said, ‘If you like to point the pen at us so much, why don’t you do it to yourself?”
The report found that the special tactical unit known as “Raptors” were apparently responsible for the worst violence.
And almost every arrested person interviewed described being beaten with batons and fists during their arrest, even when they posed no resistance.
A young woman arrested at a protest in Sheung Wan in July was one of many protesters who described being clubbed from behind with a police baton as she was running away, before being knocked to the ground and beaten even after her hands were zip-tied.
“Immediately I was beaten to the ground. Three of them got on me and pressed my face hard to the ground,” a man arrested at a protest in Tsimshatsui told researchers.
“I started to have difficulty breathing, and I felt severe pain in my left ribcage,” he said.
The man spent two days in hospital, where he was treated for a fractured rib, among other injuries.
In more than 85 percent of cases, arrestees were hospitalized as a result of their treatment during and after arrest.
Arbitrary, unlawful arrests
The report also cited several examples of arbitrary and unlawful arrest, including the denial of access to lawyers, family members, and medical care to detainees.
The report also found that police have had a reasonable basis to arrest some protesters, including for throwing bricks, bottles, and Molotov cocktails at police; for property damage; and, in at least a few instances, for assaulting a police officer.
But their use of force in response had been disproportionate, and failed to minimize injury or preserve the right to life, it said.
“The use of beatings and pepper spray on individuals who are already in custody amounts to torture and other ill-treatment,” it said.
Police abuse continued in detention for some people, including in police vehicles, police stations, and other holding facilities.
“Several such cases amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, absolutely forbidden under international law,” the report found.
In one incident, a female police officer forced a woman to strip completely and go through a full body search after she talked back to the officer. The officer also mocked and belittled the woman, it said.
‘Only one mindset left’
Man-kei Tam, Director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, said the administration of chief executive Carrie Lam was trying to use police violence to suppress the anti-extradition movement, rather than dealing with its political demands.
“In this situation, the conflict between the demonstrators and the police is getting more and more serious, and the violence is getting worse,” Tam said.
“We have seen that the police have forgotten what they originally wanted to achieve, and that there is only one mindset left: to put down the protests,” he said.
Chief Superintendent John Tse said the police had contacted some of the victims over their testimony.
He dismissed as nonsense reports of sexual assaults from female detainees, and said the case of the woman injured by what is believed to have been a rubber bullet was “still under investigation.”