Former police commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung won one of Hong Kong’s top awards on the anniversary of the city’s handover on Wednesday.

Tsang was awarded the Gold Bauhinia Star, the highest rank in the order of the Bauhinia Star, for serving in the police force for 37 years. Over 60 members of the uniformed services, including two superintendents of the 7,000-strong special team assigned to deal with last year’s umbrella movement protests, have received medals for their service to the public.

At a government conference in March, two months before Tsang retired, Chief Executive CY Leung commended Tsang for “serving Hong Kong selflessly”. At the same conference, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said the Fight Crime Committee had unanimously agreed that Tsang and the police force had demonstrated a high level of commitment and self-restraint, which helped bring the Occupy protests to a peaceful end.

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Riot police were deployed on Sept 28, 2014, triggering tens of thousands to take to the streets. Photo: Jimmy Lam.

But the discipline of the police force has been in question since the 79-day protests last year. Images and videos of suspected police violence against unarmed protesters have been widely circulated online, including TVB footage that shows seven police officers beating a handcuffed protester. Despite public outcry, neither Tsang nor police officers have been held responsible for the alleged instance of police violence.

Thirteen others have been awarded the Gold Bauhinia Stars. Four were given the Grand Bauhinia Medal, the highest award in the Hong Kong honours system.

The four recipients are: Legislative Council President Jasper Tsang Yok-sing; Cheng Yiu-tong, who sits in China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament; Ho Sai-chu and Dr Li Dak-sum, both entrepreneurs and members of China’s top advisory body.

A total of 298 people have received honours from the executive arm.

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CY Leung (second left) hosted a dinner for Andy Tsang (second right) and his wife (right) at the Government House. Photo: GovHK.

The Bauhinia Stars honours system was created in 1997 to replace the British honours system. Few with a strong pro-democracy stance have been awarded the Bauhinia Stars. An exception is Democratic Party member and HKU associate professor Law Chi-kwong, who was awarded the Gold Bauhinia Star in 2014 and Silver Bauhinia Star in 2005.

For years, critics have questioned the executive arm for using the honours system to reward individuals who are supportive of the government or the chief executive.

Image: GovHK.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.