A senior police officer has testified in court that he believed there was no choice but to use tear gas during the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests.

Wong Kei-wai, who was assistant district commander of Central district at the time, said on Monday that protesters were “unreasonable, radical, non-peaceful” and had charged at the police.

Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, Benny Tai and Chan Kin-man. File Photo: In-Media.

Wong was called as a prosecution witness in the ongoing trial of nine activists and politicians involved in the 79-day street occupation protests. They each face public nuisance and incitement charges, which carry a maximum sentence of seven years in jail. All have pleaded not guilty.

Wong, who was in charge of overseeing public protests and processions between 2013 and 2016, said on Monday that officers exercised professional judgement.

“I saw from television that protesters were taking radical action, pushing at our ranks. I believe that any police officer would have no choice but to use tear gas, to stop non-peaceful, radical, and unreasonable force,” he said.

Wong’s comment prompted laughter and murmurs in the courtroom, which was packed with the defendant’s supporters.

‘Excessive  force’

Eighty-seven tear gas canisters were fired in Admiralty on the evening of September 28, 2014, in what became the first day of the Occupy protests.

One of the defence lawyers, Hectar Pun, argued that the police used “excessive force” in deploying tear gas, which was the real reason crowds occupied the streets. He added that the Central Police Station had 886 tear gas canisters in store at the time.

Wong disagreed, saying that he believed the tear gas would not incite further protesters.

During cross-examination, Wong told Pun that he was not on the scene at the time and only knew about the protest from news reports. Wong added that – despite his role as assistant district commander – he was not the one to order the use of tear gas.

West Kowloon Magistrates Courts. File photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

The prosecution had argued that the defendants – especially the convening “Occupy trio” of Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man and Chu Yiu-ming – had incited crowds to occupy the business district to pressure the government.

Beginning of occupation

The prosecution continued to call witnesses from law enforcement and emergency services on Tuesday, with a focus on events leading up to the occupation.

Lam Hung-chuen, another police assistant district commander at the time, said protesters “forcefully slammed” him and blocked his passage.

In the early hours of September 27, there were around 1,000 protesters outside the Admiralty government headquarters who ignored police warnings, he said.

Lam added that he was separated from his team during the confusion and he was concerned that protesters might try to break into the Legislative Council Complex.

Tong Wai-tung, an assistant divisional officer at the Fire Services Department at the time, said that he received reports of multiple injuries outside Admiralty Centre at around 4pm on September 28 – around the time tear gas was first used.

File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Tong said that protesters blocked an ambulance from approaching the location, even though the ambulance had turned on its sirens.

Aside from the “Occupy trio,” the nine defendants also include politicians Shiu Ka-chun, Lee Wing-tat and Tanya Chan, as well as  activists Raphael Wong, Tommy Cheung and Chung Yiu-wa.

The trial continues on Wednesday before judge Johnny Chan.

Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.