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Rights groups, journalists hit out at ‘outrageous’ violence by Hong Kong police

Hong Kong protests (Studio Incendo/WikiCommons)
September 25, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Hong Kong’s police force was at the center of a growing storm of criticism on Tuesday after a senior officer dismissed footage of officers surrounding and kicking a protester in a yellow shirt, saying police were kicking a “yellow object” and saying the video could well have been doctored.

Acting senior superintendent Vasco Williams said the footage didn’t show whether a “yellow object” allegedly kicked by officers was a man, a bag, or a vest, prompting a chorus of criticism over police attitudes to pro-democracy protesters.

However, Williams later confirmed that a man, wearing a yellow shirt, was brought to the back alley and searched after he allegedly assaulted some officers, government broadcaster RTHK reported.

A religious group called the Protect Our Kids Campaign, whose members try to shield protesters from police violence at the front line of the pro-democracy movement, said that one of its members had been arrested in the area during protests in Hong Kong’s Yuen Long district.

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“According to the footage and the report from our members, we have strong reasons to believe that these injuries are caused by police abuses of power,” the group said in a statement.

Group member Roy Chan said the man in the yellow top was bleeding from the mouth when he was visited by his lawyer, and had to have a brain scan after reporting dizziness.

“Of course I’m extremely angry, because this is a case of abusive treatment—a lynching,” Chan said. “It violates both international law and human morality.”

He drew a parallel between the attack and the 2014 beating of pro-democracy activist Ken Tsang during the Occupy Central movement.

Police also accused protesters of trying to snatch officers’ firearms, although social media posts also showed people dressed like protesters returning to police vehicles, and pointed out a police-issue baton in the hands of one would-be gun-snatcher.

Police have admitted to using undercover officers as part of their operations since protests began.

Attacks on reporters

Meanwhile, Hong Kong journalists continued to protest police violence towards reporters covering the protests.

The Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) Programme Staff Union hit out at “outrageous actions” of police officers towards one of its cameramen at the weekend, saying officers are getting more violent towards journalists.

The union said an officer in riot gear pushed and verbally abused a cameraman on Sunday night when police were clearing protesters from Mong Kok district, while another officer hit the camera.

The union police actions are seriously threatening the safety of media workers, and could be in violation of their general orders prohibiting them from obstructing the work of journalists.

The criticisms came after police arrested 80 people over the weekend, bringing the total number of people arrested since protests escalated in early June to 1,556. The arrestees range in age from 12 to 83, with dozens  accused of “rioting.”

Across the border in mainland China, state news agency Xinhua hit out at protesters who trampled and defaced the national flag over the weekend, calling on people to “defend the national flag.”

“Insulting the flag is tantamount to insulting the country and the nation, and a blasphemy against all Chinese people including Hong Kong compatriots,” the agency said in an editorial.

“Desecrating” the Chinese flag carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison in Hong Kong.

An outrageous response

London-based rights group Amnesty International also hit out at police violence in a report on the city’s human rights record published on Tuesday.

“The outrageous police response to the Extradition Bill protests has heightened fears that Hong Kong is sliding into the repressive style of rule seen in mainland China,” Joshua Rosenzweig, head of the group’s East Asia regional office, said in a statement.

“We are urging the Hong Kong authorities to listen to the demands of millions of protesters and protect their right to peaceful assembly, in line with international and domestic obligations,” Rozenzweig said. “Ordering an independent and effective investigation into police actions would be a vital first step.”

But the Amnesty International report found that there had been a “steady erosion” of rights and freedoms in the city long before chief executive Carrie Lam put forward plans to allow extradition to mainland China.

“The Chinese authorities, in tandem with the Hong Kong leadership, have for years been chipping away at the special status that Hong Kong is supposed to enjoy regarding the protection of human rights,” Rosenzweig said.

It found that the Hong Kong authorities had misused laws and regulations to harass and prosecute individuals and groups accused of crossing Beijing’s “red lines,” which also kept shifting to include wider and wider targets.

The Chinese government under President Xi Jinping has increasingly interpreted the ordinary exercise of rights as a threat to Chinese sovereignty and security, the report said.

Pointless to complain

One activist who was beaten up by police during a 2014 protest told Amnesty that there was no point in lodging complaints under the current system.

“It is useless to complain about the police. The success rate of accusing police of assault is almost zero,” the report quoted the activist as saying.

“Amnesty International continues to call on the Hong Kong authorities to thoroughly and independently investigate inappropriate use of force or other abuse by police during the protests, as well as to stop using politically motivated prosecutions against peaceful protesters,” the group said.

Protests that erupted in June in Hong Kong against plans by the city’s government to allow extradition to mainland China have grown into a broader movement, even after Lam pledged to scrap the plan.

The protesters’ five key demands are: the formal withdrawal of planned amendments to extradition laws; an amnesty for arrested protesters; an end to the description of protesters as rioters; an independent inquiry into police abuse of power; and fully democratic elections.

Protesters have repeatedly said they won’t give up until all five conditions are met.