Hong Kong police say an officer removed Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui’s protective goggles to pepper spray him as he displayed “passive resistance.”
Hui – who is often seen on the frontlines as a negotiator – was in Causeway Bay after Wednesday’s pro-democracy march was halted prematurely by the police. Officers were rounding up nearly 100 people on Hennessy Road at the time.
Hui tried to intervene, but a riot police knocked off his protective goggles twice and fired pepper spray at him and others nearby.
At a press conference on Thursday, Police Public Relations Branch Senior Superintendent Kong Wing-cheung said Hui refused to leave and refused to go back to the pavement.
“He displayed passive resistance and kept on arguing. Our colleague warned him that pepper spray would be used to disperse him,” Kong said.
“He was wearing a pair of goggles – we don’t know if that was the reason he wasn’t afraid of our pepper spray. That’s why our colleague pulled off his goggles and used pepper spray to make the dispersal operation more effective,” Kong added.
Kong said people should follow police instructions to leave, or they may have no choice to use the minimum force necessary to disperse them.
However, according to video footage, Hui was on a pavement during the incident.
Large-scale protests have continued since last June. Initially against a now-withdrawn extradition bill, the protests have evolved into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police action, amid calls for democracy and anger over Beijing’s encroachment.
The police said they arrested 420 people between December 30 and January 1, including 307 males and 113 females between 12 and 81 years old. They stopped 464 people on Wednesday and arrested 287 of them on suspicion of unlawful assembly.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association condemned the police for dispersing reporters when officers were clearing protesters in Causeway Bay outside the Sogo department store.
Senior Superintendent (Operations) Ng Lok-Chun of Hong Kong Island Region said the cordoned area was large because officers did not know if the people they stopped would pose a threat to them.
“We need to ensure an adequately large and safe workspace for us to investigate and search them. We were also concerned that it would take a relatively long time to search them – it took several hours – we were concerned if other people would charge at our defence line and grab the detained people. That’s why we need a long defence line,” he said.