A new pro-democracy civil service union and the Hong Kong government were embroiled in a war of words on Friday after the union accused police of restricting residents’ rights, prompting a stinging response.
In a strongly worded statement released a day after the Union for New Civil Servants condemned police for cutting short a mass protest on New Year’s Day, the government warned the union about violating civil servants’ guidelines on impartiality, and accused it of ignoring public safety considerations.
“The government stressed that civil servants should not unscrupulously criticise the policies of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government or enforcement operations by individual departments,” the statement said.
The government expressed deep concern and regret over the union’s remarks and said if any civil servant violated the guidelines, “the government will deal with it in a serious manner in accordance with the established mechanism”.
The government was reacting to a Facebook post by the union on Thursday, which said: “This union strongly condemns the police force for restricting Hong Kong people’s rights of procession, assembly and association, and demands the government respect its citizens’ inborn rights.”
The union hit back against the official response on Friday, insisting it upheld the principle of political neutrality and called on the government to treat all government staff unions equally, a reference to inflammatory statements previously made by the Junior Police Officers’ Association (JPOA).
The Civil Service Code says government employees should ensure the views they express will not “compromise their capacity to fulfil their official duties professionally, effectively and impartially”.
On Wednesday, organisers claimed the turnout surpassed the 1.03 million estimate for the first major rally against the extradition bill on June 9 but the officially approved protest was forced to end at 6.15pm, three hours after it started.
It’s hard not to give an impression that the government is favouring the police force
Union for New Civil Servants statement
Police, who put the figure at about 60,000, blamed radicals who vandalised banks and blocked roads for the decision.
In its latest comments, the union cited the JPOA’s letter to Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung in July, which offered the “strongest condemnation” for the minister’s apology over the force’s handling of the violent attacks at Yuen Long MTR station on July 21.
“Faced with police remarks criticising the government and their superiors, the government has not said the police can’t criticise government policies, but the chief secretary instead said he would meet the relevant union members and clarify his remarks,” the union said.
“Government’s treatment of the police and this union who both belong to the civil service is so vastly different, it’s hard not to give an impression that the government is favouring the police force,” it read.
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In the past, the JPOA has also called those who vandalised the grave of a pro-Beijing lawmaker’s parents “cockroaches”, and last week said peaceful protesters were just as guilty as radicals.
The government did not issue any statement after those remarks were made public.
The civil servants’ group went on to say it had a responsibility to restore Hongkongers’ trust in the civil service, after controversial police actions during anti-government protests.
In a rare move, the government issued a second statement on the matter on Friday night, reiterating much of what the first one said, but adding: “The government calls on all civil servants to stay united in this difficult time, and continue to support the government’s work to stamp out violence as a matter of top priority.”
Established in November, the group is one of a number of new unions, notably in the financial, IT and medical sectors, formed recently to fight for better labour rights as well as to plan and organise citywide pro-democracy strikes.
It now boasts 2,100 members from the about 176,000-strong civil service.
Hong Kong has been embroiled in seven months of mass protests triggered by a now-withdrawn extradition bill. The anti-government demonstrations have since expanded to include five demands, including calls for democratic reforms, and an independent investigation into police use of force.