Hong Kong Police Commissioner Stephen Lo has said “low fatality weapons” were used to clear Wednesday’s anti-extradition law protests because demonstrators charged police lines with weapons.
Lo said the protests were organised, describing them as a “riot.” He added that around 150 tear gas canisters, “several” rounds of rubber bullets, and 20 beanbag shots were fired during the protest clearance. In comparison, 87 rounds of tear gas canisters were used during the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests.
Eleven people were arrested for crimes in relation to disorderly conduct in public, unlawful assembly, assaulting police officers, and riot-related offences. He said 22 police officers were injured.
“We are all Hong Kong people. We share the same vision in pursuing a stable environment in Hong Kong. It is our responsibility and duty to maintain public order and public peace,” Lo said.
He said officers were “very restrained” as protesters occupied main roads on Wednesday, until 3pm when demonstrators began to charge police with weapons: “We knew the crowd was very hostile and not stable.”
When asked about protesters being shot in the head with rubber bullets by police, Lo said he was unable to answer as he did not have enough information.
“Did our colleague injure the person? I am not saying we did not, but the person would have to make a police report,” he said.
Peer-reviewed research has shown rubber bullets to be potentially lethal.
‘Doing our duty’
Responding to reports of protesters being arrested inside hospitals, Lo said officers will make an arrest regardless of location if there is reasonable suspicion.
“We have absolutely no bad intentions to cause trouble to anyone, we are just doing our duty,” he said.
“Think about this – would we not arrest some triad members if they were at hospital?” he said. “[W]e will not intentionally interfere with someone’s treatment at hospital. We only act when we have evidence and reasonable suspicion.”
Asked if the police would ask for help from the Chinese army, he said the police would not do so at the moment as they have enough manpower.
Hong Kong proposed legal amendments in February to allow the city to handle case-by-case extradition requests from jurisdictions with no prior agreements – most notably China. Lawyers, journalists, foreign politicians and businesses have raised concerns over the risk of residents being extradited to the mainland, which lacks human rights protections. The debate the legislature has been postponed.
Journalists attended Lo’s press conference in high-visibility vests, helmets and masks amid a protest called by the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) over the treatment of media workers during the protests.
The HKJA said in a statement that it had gathered 17 cases of abuse of power against journalists, including four instances of tear gas canisters being shot at reporters at a close range. It also noted a case of a reporter being harmed and two cases of batons being used against media staff.
There were also multiple cases of riot shields being used to push journalists; several cases of batons being wielded to prevent arrests being filmed, and multiple cases of unreasonable body searches.
The journalism watchdog said all victims of these cases had press cards, wore jackets or helmets with large “press” lettering printed on them: “In most of the cases, there were no protesters for some distance,” it said. “It makes us wonder if individual officers were targeting journalists.”
The HKJA said it would file a complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Council soon.
Lo, in response, said he was very polite with media during past interview opportunities: “We have the heart to build good relationships with the media… We will never target journalist friends.”
He claimed that some individuals had pretended to be journalists and he understood that “real journalists” would feel unhappy when their bags are searched.
“I am sorry if you have received impolite treatment, and I hope you will understand our difficulties given the chaotic situation,” he said.
A journalist asked about an incident whereby an officer shouted at journalists saying “you motherfucking journalist.”
“Our roles are different, and we may have confrontation… I hope we can tolerate and understand each other,” he said. “We will improve our training.”
Asked about tear gas canisters shot at journalists without any warning, he said in some cases, officers could not give warnings ahead of firing.
Lo said the police will review the operation but did not reveal details. He said 19 complaints against police had been filed.
As of 5pm Thursday, 81 casualties related to protest activities attended A&E departments at 10 public hospitals, according to the Hospital Authority.
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