Secretary for Security John Lee has apologised to the public for the Hong Kong government’s deficiencies in pushing forward the ill-fated extradition bill.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam made a personal apology on Tuesday following several mass protests and clashes between protesters and police in Admiralty last Wednesday.

“I am part of those responsible for the law amendment – of course, I am responsible as well. Like the chief executive, I apologise for causing social confrontations, conflict and fear,” Lee told lawmakers at the Legislative Council on Wednesday.

John Lee
Secretary for Security John Lee. File Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

But Lee did not give a direct response when urged by multiple lawmakers to resign.

Lee was answering urgent questions raised by pro-democracy lawmakers Au Nok-hin and Lam Cheuk-ting, including one on the police use of force against protesters. 150 tear gas canisters, 20 bean bag rounds and several rubber bullets were shots.

Lee said police used a “minimum level of force” after protesters threw barricades, metal rods, bricks at the police.

He said police will give warnings before using force, but did not directly answer as to whether police shot at protesters’ heads.

China extradition protest admiralty clash
Photo: Todd R. Darling/HKFP.

“Police will target the protester’s largest part of the body. But the situation was chaotic and [people] were moving,” he said.

Video: Level of force used by Hong Kong police to clear protests questioned, as video clips go viral

Several lawmakers asked about an incident near Citic Tower when the police shot tear gas canisters at protesters from both sides, forcing them to rush into the commercial building, where some doors were locked. Some criticised the action may have caused a stampede.

china extradition
Photo: Hector Retamal/AFP.

“Tell me, under which police rule, can you shoot tear gas canisters at people who are retreating?” asked lawmaker Joseph Lee.

John Lee said commanders on the scene will make professional judgments. He repeated people can file complaints and they will be reviewed.

“If we just look at certain clips, we may not be able to understand the whole situation,” he said.

Tear gas shot at lawmaker

Democratic Party Chair Wu Chi-wai said that, during the protest, as protesters were up to 100 feet from the police, he was outside the Legislative Council trying to address the police commander, stating that he was a lawmaker. But the commander refused to interact, and a tear gas canister was shot and exploded next to him.

“Was that really necessary and without any other method?” he said.

Wu Chi-wai
Wu Chi-wai. Photo: FTVV screenshot.

Lee repeated his answer and said the Complaints Against Police Office – an internal body – will look into his statements fairly.

Pro-Beijing lawmakers Shiu Ka-fai, Leung Che-cheung and Jeffrey Lam voiced support for the police use of force, saying that protesters used violence against police.

“Protesters attacked police first and tried to storm the Legislative Council,” Shiu said.

He asked what police could do after facing insults from people including medical professionals at hospitals.

Lee said the spread of hatred would not help the situation, and Hong Kong needs a police force to maintain safety.

China extradition protest admiralty clash
Photo: Todd R. Darling/HKFP.

Hong Kong has seen the largest protests in its history amid government plans to update the city’s extradition laws to cover territories with which there are no prior agreements. Introduced in February in response to a Taiwan murder, the since-postponed bill would allow case-by-case fugitive transfers to other jurisdictions – such as China – without legislative oversight. The plan prompted a chorus of criticism from democratslawyersjournalistsforeign politicians and businesses, who say the mainland lacks human rights protections.

Journalists assaulted

An urgent question was also raised by Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting over use of force against journalists. Some were blocked by police, pushed, pepper sprayed or beaten, he said.

In response, Lee said the police respected the media and protected press freedom.

Journalists being pepper sprayed by police
Journalists being pepper sprayed by police at the Legislative Council demonstration area.

“But some operations happen in a split second,” he said. “The police have often urged the media to put safety as their top priority and follow instructions from officers.”

He said journalists can file complaints in accordance with the existing mechanism.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association has filed 27 complaints. Lee said the police have formed a team to investigate the complaints, and it is made up of individuals who did participate in the operation last Wednesday.

However, Lam said some police units did not have identification details on their uniforms: “How can [reporters] file a complaint?” he asked.

Lawmakers mourning
Lawmakers mourning. Photo:

Meanwhile, pro-democracy lawmakers asked for a moment of silence to mourn the protester who died last Saturday. LegCo President Andrew Leung initially denied the request, but later agreed to a five-minute break for lawmakers to do so unofficially.

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Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.