Hong Kong police say they have fired some 1,000 rounds of tear gas, 160 rubber bullets and 150 sponge grenades since large-scale anti-extradition bill protests erupted on June 9. 420 people have been arrested.
The police revealed the figures at a 4pm press conference on Monday, as officers fired more tear gas to clear demonstrators in multiple districts. Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on Monday that the force will hold daily press conferences going forward.
Those arrested in connection to the protests since June 9 were aged between 14 and 76. On Monday alone, 84 people were detained, including 76 in Tin Shui Wai.
The police have often been criticised by protesters for using excessive force, with police stations in different areas being besieged by protesters and local residents.
Police said activists had thrown bricks, rocks, pointed laser beams at buildings, and set fire to papers on metal carts and rubbish bins near their premises.
The force said they were restrained in using tear gas and hoped not to use it near residential areas. But they said they had no choice when facing violent protesters.
Police Public Relations Branch Senior Superintendent Kong Wing-cheung said the force will maintain its morale: “We got the full support of the government,” said Kong.
He denied the police were being used as a scapegoat for the Hong Kong government: “We are to maintain law and order. We are here to protect the community.”
Press freedom concerns
Kong admitted that the treatment of journalists by some officers at protest sites was not ideal, but they had no intention to block reporting duties. Kong had been challenged over officers pointing strong flashlights at reporters and – in some cases – pushing or even assaulting them.
“We respect press freedom,” he said. “We have no need to create conflict with journalists.”
But Kong said since some operations were carried out at night, flashlights were necessary.
When asked if the police had used tear gas that has passed its expiry date, Kong did not give a direct answer.
Couldn’t stop wondering, how many EXPIRED tear gas does the #HongKongPolice still have in their stocks…… Tear gas is harmful to human bodies, expired ones are even more toxic. Why you don’t buy “fresh” ones, do we not pay you tax for equipment?
— LO Kin-hei 羅健熙 (@lokinhei) August 3, 2019
But Kong maintained that the police followed instructions given by the manufacturers and used them in a safe way.
According to an internal manual leaked by a police officer to a political group, tear gas canisters should not be shot horizontally into the crowd. Asked why the police shot them horizontally, Kong refused to disclose details, citing operational concerns.
But Kong said it was difficult to avoid cases where canisters had hit people.
Kong said 23 people have been arrested in connection to the Yuen Long mob attacks on July 22, which left 45 injured.