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Hong Kong police breaking rights law with complaints system, lack of ID: court

Hong Kong Police Force (Kacey Wong/WikiCommons)
November 22, 2020

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

Hong Kong’s High Court ruled on Thursday that the city’s police force is in breach of human rights protections by refusing to allow an independent body to examine complaints against officers.

Judge Anderson Chow found that the city government has a duty under the Bill of Rights to ensure an independent mechanism for hearing complaints against the police, under a clause aimed at preventing torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

He told a judicial review hearing brought by the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA) that the existing Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) and the police’s own complaints department (CAPO) were inadequate to meet the requirements of the law.

“CAPO cannot, in my view, be regarded as practically independent of the force,” Chow said, commenting that it is staffed with police officers whose careers could be affected by any negative finding.

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The IPCC, meanwhile, has no power to conduct investigations, nor can it overturn decisions made by CAPO.

“In all, the two-tier mechanism for handling [police] complaints… fails to meet the requirement of independent investigation [under the Bill of Rights],” the judge concluded.

Chow also found that police officers’ refusal to display their ID numbers throughout last year’s protest movement was in breach of the Bill of Rights.

HKJA chairman Chris Yeung called on the police to start wearing ID immediately.

“The Police Commissioner should issue an immediate order to all police officers, to do what they should have been doing all along, and start displaying their ID numbers,” Yeung said.

“There also needs to be a response from the government regarding the necessary changes to the police complaints system, and probably fresh legislation,” he said.

Ruling ‘comes too late’

Former teacher Yeung Tsz-chung, who has also filed a judicial review challenging the police refusal to wear ID after suffering injuries to his right eye during a protest last year, said the government could still appeal the decision.

He said the ruling had come too late to help the large number of victims of police violence.

The HKJA has also strongly criticized recent changes to police General Orders allowing the force’s officers to decide who is, and is not, a journalist worthy of accreditation.

The city’s police now recognize only those working for media outlets registered with the Hong Kong government, or “renowned and well-known” non-local outlets as accredited, a designation that can protect journalists from police violence and arrest when covering breaking news.

The changes to the police rules will mean that freelance reporters and media outlets not registered with the government are unable to cover events with a police presence without risking being treated as troublesome bystanders.

Torture, ill-treatment

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.

Some detained protesters were severely beaten in custody and suffered other ill-treatment amounting to torture, the group said, with police violence occurring mostly before and during arrest, with almost every arrested person interviewed for the group’s report describing being beaten with batons and fists during their arrest, even when they put up no resistance.

The court’s ruling came as foreign ministers from the Five Eyes alliance of intelligence-sharing nations said China recent disqualification of elected lawmakers in Hong Kong appeared to be part of a campaign to silence criticism of the authorities.

“We urge the Chinese central authorities to re-consider their actions against Hong Kong’s elected legislature and immediately reinstate the Legislative Council members,” foreign ministers from Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States said in a joint statement.

“China’s action is a clear breach of its international obligations under the legally binding, UN-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration,” the five countries said.

Hong Kong expelled four opposition members from the Legislative Council (LegCo), triggering mass resignations by Hong Kong’s pro-democracy opposition lawmakers.

Britain has said that China has now broken the Joint Declaration three times, most recently with the imposition of a draconian national security law from July 1 that effectively criminalizes peaceful dissent and criticism of the government.