This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
An international rights group has called for an investigation into the shooting of an unarmed protester by Hong Kong police that left at least one person in critical condition during city-wide protests on Monday.
Video of the incident showed a traffic cop pull out his firearm and point it directly at the chest of a man in a white, hooded top. The officer grabs the white-clad man, before firing at a black-clad protester who approaches him empty-handed.
According to London-based Amnesty International, three live rounds were fired in Sai Wan Ho district on Monday morning.
“At least two protesters were shot and hospitalized, including one 21-year-old protester now in critical situation,” the rights group said in a statement on its website.
“The live rounds fired by police are clear evidence of reckless use of force,” Man-Kei Tam, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, said, adding that another policeman was seen driving at high speed into a group of protesters on a motorbike. Government broadcaster RTHK said the officer had been “grounded” over his actions.
“These are not policing measures – these are officers out of control with a mindset of retaliation,” Tam said. “Today was another shocking low for the Hong Kong police.”
Amnesty’s Tam called for the immediate suspension of officers who behave in a “reckless, arbitrary way.”
“Police officers like the one seen shooting an apparently unarmed protester at point-blank range must be suspended immediately,” Tam said. “These behaviors call their training in question and the commands they have been given – officers should be deployed to de-escalate difficult crowd control situations, not make them worse.”
The shootings took place amid clashes on Hong Kong Island, as office-workers and frontline protesters alike crowded onto the streets of the Central business district as part of a city-wide strike on Monday, holding up five fingers to represent the five demands of the protest movement.
College classes suspended
Police fired tear gas to disperse crowds, as some protesters smashed windows and sprayed pro-Hong Kong graffiti on the old headquarters of the Bank of China.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) said it would suspend classes on Tuesday after protesters barricaded themselves into the campus and threw petrol bombs at riot police wielding tear gas. Petrol bombs were also thrown at the Polytechnic University and at Hong Kong University, Reuters reported.
CUHK lecturer Nelson Lee said the government is trying to place all of the responsibility for clashes on the shoulders of protesters, without examining its own role in exacerbating the situation.
He said there are genuine concerns about a breakdown in discipline among frontline police officers.
“I don’t think this is going to be resolved by Beijing and the Hong Kong government failing to respond [to protesters’ demands] or by using ever greater force to crack down on demonstrators,” Lee said.
He said an independent probe into police violence could go a long way towards alleviating public anger.
“I am worried that this out-of-control behavior [by police] is actually systemic in nature, and that either the highest levels of government or the highest ranks of police are no longer in charge of officers on the front line,” Lee said.
Amnesty International has repeatedly called for an independent probe into the use of force by the Hong Kong police since anti-government protests escalated in early June, including multiple allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in detention.
It said the current complaints system lacks the power to mount an effective investigation into officers’ behavior.
Man set on fire
Several hours after the shooting, the injured protester was in an intensive care facility, guarded by armed police, as dozens of hospital staff protested in the lobby over police violence against protesters.
Meanwhile, another video showed a man being set on fire in Ma On Shan district at around 1.00 p.m. on Monday, after getting into an altercation with someone off camera, who he said wasn’t Chinese but British.
Police said they are investigating the case as attempted homicide.
“Police received a report from a passer-by that the 57-year-old man argued with others on a footbridge … The man was poured with suspected inflammable liquid and set [on] fire by a culprit,” the police said in a statement.
“The man was found sustaining multiple burn injuries. He was admitted to Prince of Wales Hospital in critical condition,” it said.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said there were more than 60 cases of reported injuries on Monday, calling anti-government protesters “the enemy.”
“If there is still any wishful thinking that by escalating violence the Hong Kong [government] will yield to pressure to satisfy the so-called political demands, I’m making this statement clear and loud here: That will not happen,” Lam said.
“Violence is not going to give us any solution to the problems that Hong Kong is facing,” Lam said, adding that it was “unacceptable” for anyone to say the police are now out of control.
Pro-democracy lawmakers called on Monday for Lam’s resignation.
“Lam has repeatedly sought to blame what she calls ‘mob violence,’ but actually the public see the government and the police as the mob,” the Democratic Party said in a statement signed by the party’s lawmakers on its Facebook page.
“Lam is going against the tide of public opinion, and is no longer fit to be chief executive,” it said.
Troops at any time?
The Democratic Party called on Lam’s administration to meet the demands of the protest movement, and to disband and reform the police force.
Meanwhile, Hu Xijin, editor in chief of The Global Times newspaper linked to ruling Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece The People’s
Daily, said China could send in the troops at any time.
“You have the backing of not only Hong Kong and Chinese people, but also Chinese soldiers and People’s Liberation Army in Hong Kong,” Hu wrote on his blog. “They can go into Hong Kong to provide support at any time.”
China has a garrison of up to 12,000 troops in Hong Kong, who have stayed in their barracks since protests began.
Monday‘s clashes came after tens of thousands of people gathered across Hong Kong on Friday to mourn 22-year-old student Chow Tsz-lok, who died after falling from a multi-story parking garage after police fired tear gas at protesters.
Plans by Lam to make amendments to extradition laws that would allow the extradition of alleged criminal suspects to face trial in mainland China sparked mass street protests, soon followed by widespread public anger at police use of force against peaceful demonstrators and demands for fully democratic elections.
Lam has since formally withdrawn the hated amendments, but has ruled out meeting the other four demands of the protest movement: an amnesty for arrested protesters; an independent public inquiry into police violence and abuse of power; an end to the official description of protesters as rioters; and fully democratic elections to LegCo and for her replacement.