Amnesty International has launched an interactive website detailing instances of tear gas misuse globally, as Hong Kong police were ordered to reveal the ingredients of the crowd control weapon.

The human rights NGO has documented occasions when law enforcement fired the chemical agent inside confined spaces, at individuals directly, during peaceful protests, as well as in excessive quantities.

Yau Ma Tei. Photo: Tam Ming Keung/United Social Press.

Head of the Evidence Lab on Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Programme Sam Dubberley said the team’s analysis concluded that internationally, police had misused tear gas on a massive scale.

“Security forces often lead us to believe tear gas is a ‘safe’ way to disperse violent crowds, avoiding having to resort to more harmful weaponry,” he said.

“We documented police forces using tear gas in ways that it was never intended to be used, often in large quantities against largely peaceful protesters or by firing projectiles directly at people, causing injuries and deaths.”

Amnesty’s investigation team detailed such instances on an interactive map, accompanied with context, testimonies and photo or video evidence.

Hong Kong on Friday marked the one year anniversary of the first firing of tear gas on June 12 since 2014. The incident occurred during a protest against an ill-fated extradition bill which would have enabled fugitive transfers to mainland China. The movement later spiralled into months of dissent against police behaviour and Beijing’s encroachment.

Amnesty cited footage uploaded by pro-democracy lawmaker Eddie Chu of the use of tear gas around CITIC Tower outside the legislature on June 12 last year. Police had fired the agent from both sides of Lung Wui Road simultaneously, trapping protesters.

Photo: Au Sin-yi/CitizenNews.

“Hundreds of largely peaceful protesters were then cornered by the police while trying to get into CITIC Tower to escape the tear gas,” the report read. “With no other escape routes, many rushed into the building and some were seen trying to use crowd-control barriers to break open the main doors of the building as two of the five main doors were locked.”

Other local incidents last year included the firing of tear gas from a height in Admiralty on August 5 and inside Kwai Fong MTR station on August 11.

“Firing canisters from this angle and height greatly increases [the] risk of injury as the tear gas canisters become high impact projectiles and can land on somebody, possibly causing severe injury or even death,” it read.

“Exposure to tear gas in confined spaces greatly increases the detrimental effects of the chemical agent.”

Photo: May James/HKFP.

Citizen News cited police statistics as saying 16,138 tear gas canisters were fired since the start of large-scale protests last June.

The website analysed nearly 80 events across 22 countries or territories including recent Black Lives Matter protests in the US.

Amnesty urged the international community to regulate global trade of the weapon.

Disclosure of tear gas ingredients

On Tuesday, the High Court ordered the force to submit a written statement detailing the chemical content of tear gas within 35 days following legal action from Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui.

Ted Hui. Photo: Ted Hui screenshot.

Hui told reporters before the hearing that the information would be used to challenge police brutality: “Police can easily obtain funding from the legislature for new weapons with pro-establishment camps defending them.”

“We cannot stop police brutality within the legislature but there can be checks and balances using judicial procedures,” he added.

Citizen News on Tuesday reported that police had refused to disclose the cost, origin, manufacturers and safety guidelines of tear gas in accordance with the Code of Access to Information for the past five years due to the topic’s “sensitivity.”

The Ombudsman also said that disclosing such information may interfere with law enforcement operations.

Rachel Wong

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.