Amnesty International has accused Hong Kong police of torture and other abuses in their handling of more than three months of pro-democracy protests in the city, a charge denied by police who say they have shown restraint in the face of increased violence.
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.
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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.
“This has included arbitrary arrests and retaliatory violence against arrested persons in custody, some of which has amounted to torture.”
In one instance, police shone green lasers into the eyes of detainees, Amnesty said, employing a tactic previously used by protesters against police.
Responding to the Amnesty report, police said they have respected the “privacy, dignity and rights” of those in custody according to regulations, allowing detainees transport to hospitals and communication with lawyers and their families.
“The force to be used by police shall be the minimum force necessary for achieving a lawful purpose,” police said in an emailed statement.
Hong Kong: Brutal beatings and torture in police detention – new @Amnesty evidence
— News From Amnesty (@NewsFromAmnesty) September 19, 2019
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On its official Facebook page, the police noted that almost 240 officers had been wounded in the violent protests as they exercised “a high level of restraint … to restore public order.”
The recent round of protests in Hong Kong, a former British colony that was returned to China under a “one country, two systems” arrangement in 1997, was sparked by a bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial.
The legislation was withdrawn but the protests have broadened into calls for universal suffrage, including an independent inquiry into perceived police brutality, with demonstrators angry about what they see as creeping interference by Beijing.
China has said it is committed to the “one country, two systems” framework that ensures freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including the right of assembly and an independent judiciary, and denies interfering in the territory’s affairs.
It has accused foreign powers, particularly the United States and Britain, of fomenting the unrest.
In a direct challenge to Communist Party rulers in Beijing, some protesters on Sunday threw bricks at police outside the Chinese People’s Liberation Army base and set fire to a red banner proclaiming the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.