Four men claiming to be members of Hong Kong’s disciplined services joined a group of masked protesters and two civil servants for a press conference on Monday to condemn alleged police brutality during the ongoing anti-government protests.
The four, who were masked, said they were from the fire service, immigration, and customs departments, and were taking part in such an event for the first time. None offered to show any proof of their job.
The news conference came after another weekend of chaos that saw riot police accidentally hit a fire truck with a tear-gas canister on Saturday, prompting an angry exchange that ended in officers surrounding and pushing a firefighter.
In a sign of fraying relations between the city’s frontline protection agencies, a man presenting himself as a fire service officer said at the protesters’ press conference: “We demand police officers stop interfering with our first aid work, and stop their impolite treatment of our colleagues.”
Hong Kong has been gripped by more than four months of political turmoil that was sparked by opposition to a now-withdrawn extradition bill, which would have allowed the transfer of criminal suspects to mainland China, among other jurisdictions.
The protests developed into an anti-government movement that has increasingly focused on police actions and calls for expanded voting rights.
Earlier on Monday, in a live feed with police top brass, Deputy Chief Fire Officer Derek Armstrong Chan said the senior management of the two forces had communicated over the tear gas incident and rejected claims that the firefighter involved had been punished or reprimanded.
“We express deep regret over attempts to divide the two departments, which understand and respect each other’s work,” Chan said.
But at the protesters’ press conference on Monday, the alleged firefighter claimed police had prevented his colleagues from entering Prince Edward MTR station to attend to those injured during a crowd-control operation. He said police also subjected firefighters to verbal abuse, such as calling them “cockroaches”.
He also hit out at Joseph Leung Wai-hung, the deputy director of fire services, who used the term at an internal meeting. “Such hate speech and dehumanising expressions are totally unacceptable,” he said.
The Fire Services Department has admitted to using the words, but said it referred to “rioters who had no regard for the law”.
A man introducing himself as an immigration officer who spoke at the media briefing said police had violated the protocol of using minimum force.
“As civil servants, we all have a stake in society and cannot turn a blind eye to police brutality,” he said. “After we take off our uniform, we are all Hongkongers. That is why we have to speak out today.”
Labour Department officer Michael Ngan Mo-chau, who organised a civil servant rally in August, said he was worried about the deterioration of freedoms and human rights in Hong Kong.
Protesters claim firefighters and paramedics have signed petition condemning bosses for ‘blindly supporting’ police
“We know as civil servants we have to uphold political impartiality. But when the government rushes to judgment to defend police without looking at the evidence, has it abided by the rules itself?” Ngan said, taking off his mask in the middle of making his remarks.
Before the press conference began, the speakers stood and observed a minute of silence to show solidarity with a Hong Kong University of Science and Technology student who was critically injured after falling in a Tseung Kwan O car park early on Monday, purportedly to escape police tear gas.
“We heed the student union’s call to give our good wishes to him, whose brain is seriously damaged and his life still in the balance,” a masked speaker said.