Hong Kong police watchdog says force turned down requests for information on handling of anti-government protests

Michelle Wong

A watchdog investigating complaints against the Hong Kong police said on Thursday that the force turned down some of its requests for information related to recent anti-government protests.

The force said some of the photographs and video clips sought by the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) were needed for prosecution purposes.

Tony Tse Wai-chuen, vice-chairman of the IPCC, said a special task force set up to look into police use of force in recent protests had received more than 23,000 items of information including photographs, articles, video clips and links, and would first look into 1,200 sets.

“We have been asking for information, but the police expressed concern that some photos and video clips of particular individuals or incidents could not be provided, after they consulted the Department of Justice, because they could be used for prosecution,” Tse said.

Men believed to be police officers dressed as protesters detain demonstrators on Hennessy Road. Photo: Kyle Lam/Bloomberg

The government has dismissed public demands for an independent commission of inquiry led by a judge, saying the IPCC is able to handle the investigation.

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The council is a statutory body comprising 28 members as of March 31, 2017, appointed by the chief executive and drawn from various sections of society including the legal, medical, education, social welfare and business sectors and Legislative Council members.

It monitors the investigation of complaints against police who have a statutory duty to comply with its requests.

Riot police fire tear gas in Kwai Fong MTR station. Photo: Felix Wong

At the Police Tactical Unit in Fanling on Thursday, some members of the IPCC were given a demonstration of police clearance methods and shown various weapons used by officers, Tse said.

The investigators will be looking next at police protocols for using each kind of weapon.

Apart from the fact-finding exercise of the police’s operation as a whole, the council has received about 410 complaints against individual officers.

Chief Superintendent John Tse Chun-chung, of the police public relations branch, said IPCC members would work with the force “on the handling of complaints, including gathering evidence, to ensure the investigations are done fairly”.

Police arresting protesters at Tai Koo station. Photo: Handout

He said police had held three meetings with the IPCC and would cooperate fully with the watchdog.

At Thursday’s regular 4pm police press conference, the force’s top brass confirmed that 17 people aged 15 to 21 were arrested on Wednesday in connection with protests in Sham Shui Po, Tin Shui Wai and Tai Po.

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They also revealed that 35 rounds of tear gas and a rubber bullet were fired to disperse the crowds.

Tony Ho Kai-hin, district commander of Sham Shui Po, maintained that the use of force in the densely populated neighbourhood was appropriate, brushing aside suggestions police used tear gas in virtually empty streets and failed to inform residents.

“Our officers will only fire tear gas when there are targets or threats,” Ho said. “Because of the sudden nature of the protests, we could not tell all residents. But our officers used portable loudspeakers to tell locals to close their windows.”

Ho said 700 people, some holding bricks, catapults and metal poles, surrounded and shone laser beams at Sham Shui Po Police Station at 9pm.

Steve Li Kwai-wah, senior superintendent of the organised crime and triad bureau, said investigations were continuing in the case of a female protester said to have lost the vision in her right eye after allegedly being shot by a beanbag round from Tsim Sha Tsui Police Station.

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He confirmed that fewer than 10 beanbag rounds were fired at protesters who besieged the station, and that a senior officer was in charge at the time.

The top brass also distanced themselves for the first time from a Junior Police Officers’ Association letter describing protesters as “cockroaches”.

Kong Wing-cheung, senior superintendent of the police public relations branch, said the term was impolite and he would not use it himself.

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