International experts quit Hong Kong police protest probe

Foreign experts question independence of city's investigative agency to look into allegations of abuses by police.

    Hong Kong demonstrators have repeatedly accused the police of using excessive force against unarmed protesters [Miguel Candela/EPA]
    Hong Kong demonstrators have repeatedly accused the police of using excessive force against unarmed protesters [Miguel Candela/EPA]

    An international panel of experts hired to advise Hong Kong's police watchdog in its investigation of allegations of police misconduct during huge pro-democracy protests have announced on Wednesday they were quitting, in a major setback for the government.

    The move came a month after a leaked statement from the group revealed they felt the city's police watchdog did not have the necessary powers to carry out a proper investigation.

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    One of the core demands of protesters - alongside fully free elections - has been an independent inquiry into the actions of the police force, which has been battling protesters for six months and is now loathed by significant portions of the deeply polarised population.

    But the city's pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam and the police have repeatedly rejected those calls, saying that the city's own Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) was qualified to carry out an investigation.

    In a statement released on Wednesday, the panel said talks with the IPCC had made no headway in the last month.

    "As a result, the IEP (Independent Expert Panel) has taken the decision to formally stand aside from its role," the statement said.

    The experts also reiterated its critique of the powers given the police watchdog it was hired to assess.

    "We ultimately concluded that a crucial shortfall was evident in the powers, capacity and independent investigative capability of IPCC," the experts said.

    Police - Hong Kong
    Riot police block a section of Hong Kong as tens of thousands of protesters flooded the city on December 1 [Nicolas Asfouri/AFP]

    The IEP, which was announced in September, was chaired by Sir Dennis O'Connor, who had been tasked by the British government to write a report on the police after the 2011 London riots.

    It included current or former police watchdog chiefs from Canada, Australia and New Zealand and a British specialist on crowd behaviour.

    IPCC independence questioned

    Earlier this month, the chair of the IPCC gave an interview to a mainland Chinese media outlet rebuking the panel, saying they "do not understand Hong Kong's situation".

    Critics have said the IPCC lacks adequate investigatory powers, is stacked with pro-establishment figures, and has been toothless when it comes to holding the police to account.

    Monday marked the six-month anniversary of the protests, which were initially sparked by a now-abandoned proposed bill that would have allowed extraditions of accused persons to mainland China for trial but have since morphed into a popular revolt against Beijing's rule.

    The last three weeks have seen a rare lull in the violence and vandalism after pro-democracy parties had a landslide win in local council elections.

    On Sunday, an estimated 800,000 people marched peacefully through the city's streets.

    An end to violence is something Lam has insisted must be a precursor to meaningful dialogue.

    But Lam has shown no sign she is willing to budge, leading to fears clashes could resume.

    In her weekly news conference on Tuesday, she dismissed protesters' demands once more as she announced plans to go to Beijing this weekend where she is expected to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

    SOURCE: AFP news agency