Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo Wai-chung has said an inquiry will be held to confirm whether the police officer who fired warning shots into the sky during Monday evening’s unrest in Mong Kok breached police firearm regulations. He also said that those arrested in connection with the protests may be charged with participating in a riot.

Fifty-four people have been arrested, so far, in relation to the clashes. According to the Hospital Authority, 124 have been admitted to the hospital for injuries.

Protesters angered by the government’s clearing of street hawkers in Mong Kok clashed with the police overnight on Monday. The protests continued into the night, with the police deploying pepper spray and demonstrators starting roadside fires. At around 2am, an officer fired two warning shots into the sky.

stephen lo
Stephen Lo. Photo: RTHK Screenshot.

Earlier on Tuesday, Scholarism and an Apple Daily report claimed that police officers are forbidden from shooting into the sky under any circumstances, as Hong Kong has a dense population and there is an inherent danger that stray bullets could easily injure passers-by.

Live ammunition used

Lo said that, at around 2am, a police officer was attacked with hard objects by rioters, and his colleague used his firearm in accordance with use of force principles to guarantee the safety of himself and his coworker.

“When our lives or others’ lives are being threatened, we are allowed to use firearms,” Lo told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

An officer could do so when they were left with “no alternatives”, he said, confirming later that live ammunition was used by the police officer in question. Lo, however, did not give a direct reply to reporters’ questions as to whether the officer had violated any firearms regulations.

gun mong kok police officer
Photo: TVB screenshot.

“I cannot determine at this point whether the decision was correct or whether regulations have been breached.” He added that further investigation was needed before a conclusion can be reached, as he could not make a call based on the screenshot from a news broadcast. Lo said that police have strict guidelines on the use of force including firearms, and individual officers undergo strict training.

mong kok fehd riot protest
Photo: Kris Cheng, HKFP.

Lo warned that depending on the evidence, those arrested may be charged with taking part in a riot. He said that he was unsure when was the last time someone was charged with the crime, but it was not used during the pro-democracy Occupy protests two years ago. Referring to acts of arson and hurling bricks he said: “If this is still not considered a riot, it’s hard to imagine what will be.”

He said that riots were situations which pose a serious threat to public safety, including destruction of property or arson – an act which can attract a life sentence.

See also: HKFP Lens – Protesters light fires during clashes in Mong Kok

Lo said that there was a growing tendency for protesters to be inclined to violence or radical acts to express their opinions. “If they call themselves people of Hong Kong, first of all they should love Hong Kong and should not break the rule of law which we have hard-earned for so many years.”

mong kok fehd riot protest
Photo: Kris Cheng, HKFP.

Lo denied that the police were underprepared, saying, “We are professional and we always do a risk assessment [of] the situation before we deploy officers to the scene… in the case of crowd management, crowd psychology can change within seconds so, whenever we do this assessment, once we consider that we need to send more men, we do it right away.”

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“At this moment we’re not expecting another riot tonight… of course we will closely monitor the situation. Because of last night’s incident, we have increased our manpower for tonight’s firework display.”

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He urged revellers to leave the scene if there was a repeat of last night’s events.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.