The behaviour of plainclothes police officers while subduing two young men at a bus stop on Saturday has stirred controversy.
Two individuals carrying batons were seen restraining the men as they were disembarking from a bus at Lok Wah Estate in Ngau Tau Kok, Ming Pao reported.
Several more plainclothes officers arrived on the scene after the two youths were subdued.
Video footage taken by an eyewitness showed that, when a bystander approached one of the subdued men and asked him to state his name for the purposes of seeking legal representation, one of the men with a baton shouted: “Back off! Do not speak to him!”
As the bystander stepped away, the man continued shouting “back off!” and attempted to grab him. But he tripped as he rose from the ground, hit a nearby trash bin and smacked into a planter. He immediately turned to the subdued youth and accused him of assault, causing an uproar among the large crowd of bystanders.
“You police can’t do this,” one said. “I request that you don’t use excessive force,” said another onlooker. Another said: “He didn’t move, so don’t treat him like this.”
In response to the officer’s accusation, the restrained man cried repeatedly: “I didn’t move. I didn’t move.”
The man later rolled up the left side of his trousers and told bystanders: “who assaulted a police officer first? I am injured.” The two young men were later taken away by police.
An eyewitness, Mr. Chan, told Apple Daily that the man who tripped claimed to be an off-duty officer. Chan said that the driver of the bus asked the man for his warrant card for record-keeping, but the request was refused. According to Chan, the man told the bus driver to leave or risk arrest.
Chan said that the bus driver then turned to a uniformed police officer present at the scene, asking that the plainclothes officer present his ID. But the bus driver was told: “You’d better shut up. If you keep making a fuss, I will charge you for obstructing police officers in executing their duty.”
Another video clip taken at the scene showed that one of the plainclothes officers presented his warrant card for a moment.
Pro-democracy activist Ken Tsang called the behaviour of the off-duty officer “lawless,” while ex-chief of Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union Fung Ka-keung expressed shock at the officer’s claim that demanding to see a police warrant card constituted obstruction.
It is unclear why the men were subdued as they disembarked the bus, which ran between Mei Foo and Lok Fu. On the same day, clashes between pro-China and pro-democracy supporters broke out in several neighbourhoods, as the former vandalised pro-democracy “Lennon Walls” across the city.
The controversy came days after the police force began issuing extendable batons to off-duty officers for self-defence purposes. The decision was also meant to tie in with the needs of an operation targeting violent anti-government protesters, codenamed Operation TIDERIDER.
A police internal memo leaked online last Thursday stated that off-duty officers who used the baton must report incidents to their supervisor and Regional Command and Control Centre.
Rights groups have expressed concern over the reliability and accountability of the system. Icarus Wong of NGO Civil Rights Observer told HKFP earlier that he was concerned about whether off-duty police would use the batons correctly and with restraint.
He added that there might be difficulty tracing off-duty officers who fail to report to their supervisor after using the baton.
Throughout the summer of protests in Hong Kong, the police force has been widely criticised for the use of force against protesters and lack of accountability. The force has repeatedly said that the use of force by officers had been “legal, reasonable and justified.”
Correction 20:12: A previous version of this article erroneously stated that the incident occurred in Lok Fu. In fact, it took place in Ngau Tau Kok.
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