The rising number of Hong Kong students arrested for radical protest activity in recent months is worrying and partly a result of society being unwilling to condemn violence and therefore giving the young the wrong message, the city’s newly appointed police chief has said.
In a television interview broadcast on Sunday, Commissioner of Police Chris Tang Ping-keung also rejected mounting calls for an independent probe into his officers’ handling of anti-government protests, saying such an investigation would be “unjust” and would only incite further hatred against the force.
He would only support the ongoing investigation by the force’s watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC).
On the growing number of students being among the more than 5,800 people arrested so far for their involvement in the protests, Tang said he believed peer pressure and the public’s support for the use of violence were the major factors behind youngsters taking part in radical actions.
He said that 43 per cent of the total number of protesters arrested since September were students, compared with 25 per cent between June and August.
“I am worried because a section of the public does not condemn violence, but condones it, giving teenagers the wrong message that as long as protesters believe they are right, they can do whatever they want, be it firing petrol bombs or arrows,” he added.
While he acknowledged there might be many reasons for young people’s unhappiness, he disagreed that police’s alleged use of excessive force contributed to their sentiments.
“If they did not use violence, we would not use force. And police are only concerned about protesters’ actions when they get violent. We will handle it. But we cannot handle what caused them to affect public order,” he said, adding that police used a mix of “persuasive and forceful” measures to handle radical protesters.
“Some bottom lines we will not allow them to cross are arson, vandalism and violence. These are crimes we will stop immediately. But for those involved in unauthorised assembly or running onto the roads, we would try to persuade them instead of arresting them.”
Tang also hoped that university campuses would not be turned once again into fiery battlegrounds, as happened over the past few weeks, when protesters and police clashed repeatedly and universities were occupied by radicals. At Polytechnic University, police laid a 13-day siege as radicals inside refused to leave after pitched battles with officers.
Tang said the force would still go into any place and take action whenever there was a crime committed, regardless of whether it was a school or not.
On the subject of an independent inquiry on the force, he said: “For any probe on police conduct, I think the IPCC is most effective. This is because it is familiar with police’s operations and is also experienced in investigating allegations against the force.
“If the formation of any independent commission of inquiry is intended to target and attack the police force, I think it will become a tool for inciting hatred against police. This is an injustice.”
Protesters have repeatedly demanded a judge-led inquiry into police’s alleged use of excessive force in dealing with the months-long social unrest. But Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has rejected the demand, saying the IPCC investigation will suffice. She has stood her ground even though an international panel of experts said last month the body lacked the essential powers to rigorously investigate policing during the protests.
As to Lam’s recent suggestion of an independent review committee on the underlying causes of the protests, Tang said it was a good idea. “But any investigation on policing should only be handed over to the IPCC,” he said.
Tang also expressed frustration that, after two weeks of relative calm, violent clashes between protesters and police returned to Mong Kok on Saturday night, as about 200 radicals blocked roads twice in three hours and set fire to a metro station, while the force responded by firing three rounds of tear gas.
“It was unfortunate that rioters came out again [on Saturday] night. They blocked roads, set fires, hurled petrol bombs, and even threw a drain cover at those who tried to remove a makeshift barricade. Their actions may kill anyone at any moment,” he said.
Tang was referring to a video circulating online, which showed a masked protester using a metal object to hit a young man on his head on Nathan Road. The victim fainted for about a minute, his head started to bleed, and a volunteer paramedic offered treatment. By Sunday afternoon, his condition was unclear.
Tang emphasised police had their bottom line, and that, in the face of such violence, they had no option but to fire tear gas.
“We understand that the use of tear gas may affect public health, but in the face of such fatal attacks by the rioters or the use of petrol bombs, we also need to use relative force to respond,” he said.
This article Hong Kong police chief Chris Tang warns of rising number of students arrested for violent acts, blaming peer pressure and public’s refusal to condemn violence first appeared on South China Morning Post