Hong Kong ‘s Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) has released its 999-page report on the behaviour of the police force during last year’s city-wide protests and unrest, concluding that officers generally acted within guidelines but there was “room for improvement.”

arrest mong kok police december 25
Photo: Viola Kam/United Social Press.

Large-scale protests erupted last June over an ill-fated extradition bill which allow the transfer of fugitives to mainland China. Amid calls for democracy, demonstrators have also demanded a fully independent probe into police behaviour.

Carrie Lam
Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

However, the IPCC has no investigative power, cannot summon witnesses, and generally exists to review complaints already considered by the internal Complaints Against Police Office. It said that officers generally acted within guidelines despite “room for improvement,” and did not cover cases of personal excessive use of force or individual misconduct. However, it said the force was a victim of a protester “propaganda” campaign – an assertion echoed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam at a Friday press conference.

HKFP rounds up local and international reactions to the controversial report.

Hong Kong Police Force:

Police acknowledge and accept the IPCC’s report, and are grateful for the precious time and effort the IPCC Chairman and members have contributed in conducting a comprehensive review within a short period of time and offered various constructive improvement measures on police handling of large-scale public order events.

Police will seriously examine the IPCC’s report and will participate in and fully collaborate with the taskforce steered by Secretary for Security with a view to studying in detail and following up on the 52 recommendations proposed in the report.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam:

The IPCC has examined a large volume of information and has made detailed and objective representation of facts in the report. The report is comprehensive, objective, fact-based and weighty.

Overall speaking, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government accepts the 52 recommendations proposed by the IPCC. I have requested the Secretary for Security to set up a task force and to supervise it personally to study and follow up on every recommendation, as well as to consult the IPCC when necessary and report to me on a regular basis…

Spokesperson for the Security Bureau:

The Government expresses gratitude to the IPCC Chairman, Mr Anthony Neoh, SC, and all members of the IPCC for their time and efforts in preparing this report. Different versions, statements and allegations of social incidents and issues covered in the report have been circulating across the society. The IPCC’s report seeks to provide a complete picture of the incidents through rigorously reviewing a tremendous amount of information and cross-checking information obtained from different sources. We believe that the report can help ascertain the facts. At the same time, the report has proposed a series of improvement measures which should be helpful to the Police to better handle future POEs [public order events] and further enhance their law enforcement efforts.

Benedict Rogers, Hong Kong Watch:

The Independent Police Complaints Council’s report is a shocking whitewash which shows that there is no viable mechanism in Hong Kong to ensure accountability either for police brutality or police complicity with violence by criminal thugs. With rights groups reporting incidents of torture in detention and routine excessive use of force, it is now time for the international community to establish an independent inquiry, to hold the perpetrators of violations of human rights in Hong Kong to account. The introduction of targeted Magnitsky sanctions on those responsible for such violations should then be considered.

Hong Kong Democratic Council:

Why we can’t & won’t yield on #5DemandsNot1Less. IPCC’s report is pure whitewashing & political propaganda against protest movement-nothing more, HK’s police “independent” watchdog releases report on officers’ handling of protest movement.

Jimmy Sham, convenor of protest organisers, the Civil Human Rights Front

The IPCC detailed dozens of recommendations. What are these recommendations? To resolve police brutality through public relations tactics, liaise better with the media, clarify rumours more often so as to improve public perceptions of the police force. But when it comes to restricting the police use of force, there is no clear instruction. Should the IPCC’s full name be Independent Police Communication Council?… Is its major function to help the police with their public relations?… Even by just visually analysing the report, you can see how biased they are – extensive lengthy paragraphs and close-up [shots] of protesters, but when it comes to violent police acts – the photographs are wide-angle shots… The objective of the report is to whitewash for the police in a pseudo-impartial tone. The IPCC, all along, had no power to monitor nor punish the police. It is a department appointed by Carrie Lam to do PR for the police. Only an independent commission for investigation of inquiry comprising of reputable judges can restore the full picture of police brutality.

Clifford Stott, Keele University, who quit the IPCC foreign experts panel

Interesting deployment of ‘expert testimony’ to underpin a section deploying a distorted form of ‘deindividuation theory’ as conceptual underpinning of IPCC Study. At no point have I yet found reference to contemporary scientific evidence on the dynamics of crowds…

It would seem the release of the IPCC report is part of a wider set of coordinated announcements designed to deliver the new ‘truth’.

Joshua Wong, pro-democracy group Demosisto:

[The] police watchdog just completely ignored all undeniable facts concerning #policebrutality & claims there is “no evidence of collusion”. In fact, oversea[s] experts had warned of the watchdog’s independence by resigning from the panel. Clearly, in the absence of effective checks and balances mechanism, #hkgov and #hkpolice are ready to step up its political prosecution and clamp down upon democratic movements with “rioting” charge. Up to now, 8337 #hongkongers were arrested and 595 ppl charged with rioting.

Luke de Pulford of the UK Conservative Party Human Rights Commission:

This report is an absurd, preposterous whitewash. The sentence “No evidence of collusion in Yuen Long attack” alone discredits it beyond all credulity… QED. Utterly ludicrous “report” which should destroy the reputation of anyone involved with it.

Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo:

The report is not just superficial. It’s hollow. It has recollected some government information services handout. It’s all part of the establishment speak. It’s [the] Ministry of Truth à la George Orwell’s 1984.

Tam Man-kei, Director of Amnesty International Hong Kong:

This misleading report makes no attempt to establish accountability for the gross police misconduct seen on the streets since last summer. It also demonstrates the Hong Kong government’s effective refusal to address the widespread and systemic human rights violations that have taken place during protests since last June.

While admitting there was “room for improvement” for the police handling of protests and other public incidents, the report fails to bring justice any closer for the repressive and unprofessional police operations seen during the protests.

The report has no impartiality, and the IPCC has no power to conduct a truly independent investigation. In fact, this report fails miserably to even ‘provide a big picture’. The IPCC disproportionately focused on the ‘hatred and violence targeting police’ by a small section of the protesters. The report also makes an alarming claim of the advent of terrorism in the city without any substantial support. The government must not use counter-terrorism as an excuse for unnecessary and excessive use of force and other systemic violations of human rights by law enforcement.

Civil Rights Observer statement on the report:

The IPCC repeatedly quotes the police in the report, including quoting in full twice the Deputy Commissioner’s speech at the Human Rights Council in March 2020, which forms part of China’s narrative that at the United Nations that evades concerns over police abuse of powers, and the police’s definition of “riot”. This violates the principle of the presumption of innocence, a fundamental principle of the rule of law. These raise serious concerns over the impartiality and fairness of the IPCC study.

The IPCC’s comment on how the public drove and conducted the democracy movement in Hong Kong does not fall within its mandate. The comment has no legitimacy and does not serve to build trust in the IPCC or the police…

The IPCC has failed to study the police’s handling of the public order events in Hong Kong impartially or to give constructive recommendations. It does not achieve its proclaimed goal of building public trust in the police. The IPCC, as a statutory body, is similar to a human rights institution but it does not consider the police’s handling of public order events with international human rights standards. The report gives the public the impression that they are letting the police go and the recommendations are not adequate for the protection of human rights in Hong Kong.

Stand With Hong Kong:

The IPCC’s report is a whitewash of the events of the past year. The thrust of the report pins the blame for escalating tensions between Hongkongers and the Hong Kong Police Force on alleged ‘misunderstandings’ and ‘speculation’, ignoring the role of the HKPF as handmaiden to the administration’s crackdown on free speech and protest. The failure of this purported ‘independent’ investigation commission to hold the HKPF to account over its violent, repressive actions, demonstrates the inadequacies of the current system. It also shows that what was promised under the Basic Law, and guaranteed by the Sino-British Joint Declaration––that is, respect for civil liberties, human rights, and autonomy––is being eroded by the day.  

Pro-democracy lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki from the Civic Party:

The report fails to mention how to follow up on the police brutality in the anti-extradition protests and has not suggested disciplinary action or criminal prosecution for officers who violated the law or ethical code… The two-tier system has loopholes, as complaints are first directed to the Complaints Against Police Office and then passed on to the IPCC. It is questionable whether they [police] would shield themselves during the investigation.

Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.