Hong Kong’s police chief on Thursday sought to defuse controversy over remarks by a senior officer about attacks in Yuen Long that occurred during social unrest last year, saying the force should avoid unnecessary statements to prevent misunderstanding.
Police Commissioner Chris Tang Ping-keung’s comments came a day after police arrested 13 people, including opposition lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, over the violence on July 21 last year.
A senior officer challenged previous media reports of the incident describing a group of men, clad mostly in white, beating commuters and protesters, with police saying further investigation showed both sides had contributed to the escalation of violence that evening.
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Tang said: “I think we, as the police, we do not have any intent to write or rewrite any history. History will judge itself. Someone will unleash that it is an indiscriminate attack. Some will say it is on equal footing. I think we should focus on evidence and facts. We should not comment too much on other issues.”
The violence was a turning point in the social unrest that gripped the city beginning in June last year, sparked by a now-abandoned extradition bill.
The police response prompted a public outcry, with officers accused of colluding with the aggressors by arriving late to the scene, an accusation dismissed by then-police commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung.
Tang said on Thursday he agreed it took 39 minutes after a report was received for officers to first arrive on the scene, adding the time frame fell short of expectation. The force would study how to make improvements, he said.
After Wednesday’s arrests, Senior Superintendent Chan Tin-chu of the New Territories North regional headquarters said the public had relied on “lopsided, twisted, misleading and flawed” online footage to form an incorrect view of the incident.
An investigation by police concluded both sides were “on equal footing” in their use of force, Chan said. He questioned, in particular, the description of the violence as “an indiscriminate attack” on bystanders and protesters returning home from clashes on Hong Kong Island.
While police earlier suggested officers arrived 39 minutes after being notified, their investigation found it was 18 minutes, Chan said. But Tang clarified the 18 minutes referred to the time between when the response teams were first alerted and when they arrived at the scene.
Asked whether Chan’s remarks represented the force’s views, Tang said the force should comment based on facts and evidence.
“Any unnecessary remarks would create unwanted misunderstanding and rumours,” Tang said. “I think they are unnecessary. Commenting on Chan, I think we should focus on factual narratives, other descriptions may be not needed.”
Chan’s remarks appeared to be at odds with a study into the incident by the Independent Police Complaints Council. The report stated: “The people dressed in white jumped over the ticket gates into the paid area to attack those in black outfits” as the verbal abuse between the two sides escalated at 11.02pm
The people in black “retreated” upwards to the platform and into the compartments of a stopped train. “The people dressed in white attacked the people in black outfits inside the train but alighted as the train departed, thus ending the attack,” the report said.
Zachary Wong Wai-yin, chairman of the Yuen Long District Council, said police had “rewritten the script” about what happened at Yuen Long. The government would use the police’s “new script” going forward, he said.
It did not matter when police exactly arrived. “The problem is that they had already seen those people holding sticks and pipes but they did not handle it,” he said. “Even if they said they were waiting for backup after the first attacks happened, they still did not return to the scene when a second round of attacks started.”
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong opposition lawmaker granted bail over rioting charge tied to Yuen Long attack as police chief denies force ‘rewriting history’
- Hong Kong protests: anger mounts as police are accused of trying to rewrite white-shirt mob attacks in Yuen Long with arrest of opposition lawmaker
- Hong Kong police detain six more men linked to Yuen Long attack on July 21 last year, bringing the total number arrested to 43