Pro-democracy lawmakers have accused the Hong Kong police force of adopting “double standards” in their treatment of anti-government demonstrators and counter-protesters in North Point on Sunday night. The police have denied wrongdoing.
At a press conference on Monday, pro-democracy camp convener Claudia Mo said that officers have been specifically targeting young people to arrest.
She showed a NowTV screenshot of a young protester who was forced onto the ground during an arrest – he was bleeding and restrained, but officers used pepper spray against him at close range.
“It seems that it is a sin if you are young and if you wear black. This is unimaginable extrajudicial power,” she said.
Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting showed another screenshot of an incident in North point. As police arrested a group of knife-wielding people who were threatening to attack protesters, they were given police shields to cover their faces and were not handcuffed.
“Why did the police adopt different standards for these police supporters, and for protesters? Such behaviour makes people feel that the police were protecting these weapon-wielding attackers,” he said.
Lam said he was concerned that the incident would encourage protesters to take matters into their own hands and fight back with force.
Police deny selective enforcement
Police Public Relations Branch Chief Superintendent John Tse denied any claims of differential treatment at a regular press conference on Monday.
He said police had arrested 29 people over the incident in North Point as of Sunday night, including people with different political views.
He added that the police arrested a man who was seen attacking people with folding chairs, as well as two people who attacked journalists.
“Even if police officers did not enforce the law at the moment of the incident, it does not mean police did not enforce the law – and it does not mean police would not make follow up investigations and arrests. Members of the public have no need to worry. We assure you that we will seriously follow up on incidents,” he said.
“I don’t see any double standard in exercising our duties,” he added.
Senior Superintendent Jim Ng, who leads operations on Hong Kong Island, said the arrested people requested to hide their faces: “We believed the arrangement [to hide their faces with shields] was reasonable at that moment. I don’t see any problems,” Ng said.
He added that many arrested protesters were wearing masks when they were taken away.
Asked if the police would deem people wielding weapons in North Point “rioters,” John Tse said he would not call people involved in “fighting incidents” rioters.
Unrest first broke out on Sunday just before dusk in Admiralty. Tse said protesters threw 80 Molotov cocktails during the evening and said that violence used by protesters had spiralled out of control. Since June 9, police have arrested 1,453 people aged between 12 and 72.
Hong Kong has seen 100 days of demonstrations and unrest triggered by the soon-to-be-withdrawn extradition bill, which would have allowed case-by-case fugitive transfers to China. However, large-scale peaceful protests have morphed into sometimes violent displays of dissent over Beijing’s encroachment and alleged police brutality.
A video widely shared online on Monday showed a man with tattoo claiming to be an off-duty officer. He held a baton on the streets and threatened residents.
Senior Superintendent Kong Wing-cheung clarified that the man was not a police officer, and the baton did not belong to the police.
Police also addressed an incident on Saturday whereby two individuals in plain clothes carrying batons were seen restraining two men as they were disembarking from a bus in Ngau Tau Kok.
Their behaviour sparked controversy, but Kong said that the two with batons were on-duty officers who had followed the men in order to arrest them after a fight at a nearby mall. Kong said officers may not be able to show their identity cards in urgent situations, as the arrested people usually resist – but, during the bus stop incident, one of the officers had indeed showed his identification.
Asked how residents might distinguish between plain clothes officers, off-duty officers and common people, Kong said members of the public can wait until other police officers arrive on the scene: “You can wait to see. When real plain clothes police officers arrest people, police vans would be called to take them away. This cannot be falsified,” Kong said.
Student journalist bailed
In another controversial incident, a Baptist University student reporter was arrested after he was searched in North Point for holding a knife. The student-run Broadcast News Network said the student journalist had explained the knife was for cutting festive mooncakes, but was still detained.
Organised Crime and Triad Bureau Senior Superintendent Steve Li said the student was wandering around with protesters, and held a sharp, nine-inch long knife. Video footage showed it to be a butter knife, but officers did not accept that it was for cutting mooncakes, thus the student was arrested, said Li.
Boaz So, the student in question, was released on HK$500 bail on Monday night. So said he was covering the protests, was wearing a press vest and denied working with protesters. He claimed the knife was used to cut mooncakes on Thursday, and he had forgotten to take it out of his bag when reporting on Sunday.
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