Police Violence Now Primary Concern of Hong Kong Protesters

The five demands put forth by protesters in Hong Kong in recent months include a full and impartial investigation into police brutality, following several incidents of violence in which protesters were injured. While the protests started in the spring in opposition to a proposed extradition law, which has since been withdrawn, police violence and broader issues relating to Hong Kong’s democracy and political autonomy have taken center stage more recently. In recent days, reports of police violence have escalated, with undercover police entering crowds and beating protesters. Barbara Marcolini reports for The New York Times:

Protesters have accused the Hong Kong police of using excessive force throughout the demonstrations that have gripped the city for the past four months. But on the night of Aug. 11, a major shift occurred. For the first time, officers disguised as demonstrators were seen beating protesters and conducting arrests.

Videos of the night went viral. They showed undercover officers hitting protesters with batons and pinning them to the ground, leaving some bleeding profusely. We analyzed footage of the night and spoke to more than a dozen witnesses and protesters who were detained. Lawyers and human rights advocates who watched the images say the police used excessive force to conduct arbitrary arrests.

The Hong Kong police said they had conducted a “decoy operation” targeting a “core group of violent rioters.” But three of the men arrested said they did not know one another, and protests in the area had ended hours before the clash.

[…] One man says he suffered a brain hemorrhage; others had serious bone fractures. Doctors described one injury, a broken arm, as caused by assault. The episode became one more example of police tactics that have infuriated citizens, driving calls for an independent investigation into police misconduct.[Source]

Last week, Amnesty International issued a report alleging that the Hong Kong Police Force have used “reckless and indiscriminate tactics” including torture. Reuters reports:

Anti-government protesters, many masked and wearing black, have thrown petrol bombs at police and central government offices, stormed the Legislative Council, blocked roads to the airport, daubed graffiti on key buildings and lit fires on the streets during rallies that have been taking place since June.

Police have responded with tear gas, water cannon, rubber bullets, bean-bag rounds and several live rounds fired into the air, warning the crowds beforehand with a series of different coloured banners.

They have also been seen beating protesters lying on the ground with batons, with footage of one such attack on cowering passengers on an MTR subway train going viral online and prompting widespread anger.

“The evidence leaves little room for doubt – in an apparent thirst for retaliation, Hong Kong’s security forces have engaged in a disturbing pattern of reckless and unlawful tactics against people during the protests,” Nicholas Bequelin, East Asia director at Amnesty International, said. [Source]

Erin Hale at the Guardian reports further on police violence in Hong Kong in light of Amnesty’s findings:

Mistrust in police remains widespread even as frontline protesters have escalated their tactics to include petrol bombs, bricks and in some cases even fighting with officers with sticks and hiking polls.

Protest chants have called for police to “return the eye” of one woman who was severely injured by a police bullet, while another has asked police to reveal the “missing” protesters who many believe disappeared after an intense clash at a subway station on 31 August.

Ted Hui, a Democratic legislator who has attended protest frontlines as an observer and was arrested this month for “obstruction”, told the Guardian that police use of batons – in lieu of rubber bullets – had ramped up since August, and that he had personally seen protesters hit on the head and across their body.

He said many of those arrested at anti-government demonstrations, who now number about 1,400, were not frontline protesters throwing petrol bombs but rather those standing farther back or even bystanders observing the conflict. [Source]

The past week marked the 16th consecutive weekend of protests, and they continued with escalating intensity. A recent survey by Samson Yuen of Lingnan University found that police violence was the primary reason most protesters were still on the streets. From his report in Hong Kong Free Press:

Our data show protesters tend to be young and highly educated. On average, half of our respondents are aged between 20 and 30. Around 77% said they had a tertiary (higher) education.

[…] Most respondents identified themselves as either democrats or localists. However, in the early stages of the protests, it is also notable that nearly 30% of respondents said that they were centrists or had no political affiliations. This dropped to around 15% by early August.

When asked why they were protesting, the vast majority of respondents (more than 90%) cited two main motivations: the complete withdrawal of the controversial extradition bill and an independent inquiry into excessive use of force by police against the protesters.

Interestingly, from July onwards, police violence has become a more pressing concern for respondents, with those who see it as “very important” rising from 85% to over 95%. Protesters have also increasingly said they are fighting for Hong Kong’s democracy, with those who see it as “very important” rising from 83% to 88%. [Source]

Meanwhile, a senior police officer told journalists that the police force had been “pushed to the limit” of their current resources by the ongoing protests.


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