Hong Kong police watchdog to release report on protest response

Police have been accused of disproportionate use of force with protesters calling for an independent inquiry.

Hong Kong police
Hong Kong's police watchdog will release the findings of its investigation into the force's handling of the protests that began in the city in June last year. Police fired tear gas and rubber-coated bullets to disperse protesters, arresting at least 8,000 people [File: Thomas Peter/Reuters]

Hong Kong’s police watchdog will release a much-anticipated report on Friday afternoon into the force’s handling of months of sometimes violent anti-government protests in the Chinese-ruled city.

The Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) studied officers’ behaviour in the months after June 2019, during a time of some of the biggest and most violent demonstrations to roil the city in decades.

The report is expected to be released at 2pm (06:00 GMT).

Rights groups including Amnesty International have accused police of a disproportionate use of force and other abuses in handling the pro-democracy demonstrations.

Police have repeatedly said they were reactive and exercised restraint in the face of high levels of violence.

The protests started as a campaign against a now-shelved extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial but soon evolved into broader calls for greater democracy and an independent inquiry into police action, separate from the IPCC’s.

In some of the most intense clashes, protesters, many clad in black and wearing masks, threw petrol bombs at police and central government offices, stormed the Legislative Council, vandalised metro stations and blocked roads.

Police responded with tear gas, water cannon, rubber-coated bullets and several live rounds fired in the air, in many cases warning the crowds beforehand with a series of coloured signal banners.

Anthony Neoh, head of the police watchdog, has said the report did not investigate allegations of misconduct against individual officers.

Credibility questioned

The credibility of the investigation was dealt a blow in December when a panel of five foreign experts quit from advisory roles to the watchdog because of doubts about its “independent investigative capability”.

Among the police operations under review were events on July 1 when protesters stormed the Legislative Council and an incident in the New Territories district of Yuen Long on July 21 when protesters and bystanders were attacked in the station by a group of men wearing white T-shirts.

The IPCC is tasked with reviewing the work of the Complaints Against Police Office, an internal police department.

More than 8,300 people have been arrested since the protests began and more than 1,600 charged mainly with rioting, possession of an offensive weapon and unlawful assembly, the Hong Kong Police Force said in a series of tweets on Friday headed “Telling Right from Wrong”. 

Riot police disperse anti-government protesters during a protest at Mong Kok in Hong Kong, China May 10, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
Riot police disperse anti-government protesters during a protest at Mong Kok in Hong Kong on Sunday [Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

An independent inquiry into police handling of the unrest is one of the protesters’ five demands, but Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has insisted that the IPCC is capable of conducting an independent investigation rejecting calls for a separate body.

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus and strict rules to curb its spread brought a lull in anti-government protests this year but there have been signs in recent days that the movement is gearing up again, with police saying on Monday they had arrested more than 200 people in disturbances over the weekend.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies