Hong Kong’s security chief has said the city’s police force has no current plans to stop officers from using chokeholds when arresting people. It came amid a worldwide controversy over such practices following the death of African-American man George Floyd in US police custody in May.

Lawmaker Eddie Chu submitted questions regarding two Hongkongers who died after police allegedly used chokeholds on them during their arrests. One case was from 2012 involving a taxi driver, which is subject to an on-going legal challenge. The other case was from May this year, when an unnamed south Asian man died shortly after he was subdued and apprehended in Tsim Sha Tsui. A video from an eyewitness showed an officer appearing to kneel on the man’s neck for five to seven minutes during the arrest.

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A Southeast Asian man subdued by police in Tsim Sha Tsui in May 2020.

In a written reply to Chu on Wednesday, Secretary for Security John Lee said the force does not have plans to ban the use of chokeholds at the moment. He said officers would exercise their professional judgement to take appropriate actions, including using necessary force, when handling the situation at the scene.

Lee said officers’ use of force must comply with guidelines, such as using “minimum” force only when such an action was “absolutely necessary.” They should also adhere to the principles of proportionality and necessity when using force, Lee said.

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But the head of the Security Bureau refused to disclose the details of the rules governing the use of force, saying that such confidentiality was to ensure that the efficacy of police operation would not be affected.

“I must reiterate that the level of force to be used by police officers under a particular circumstance depends on the facts and situation at that time. The necessary force to be used depends on the threat and resistance faced by police officers under the circumstances at the time,” Lee wrote.

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Police officer appear to press his knee onto a female student during an arrest in June. Photo: SCMP screenshot.

Last month, a Hong Kong police officer was seen pressing his knee onto a female student’s neck, during a demonstration to mark a year since tear gas was released to clear anti-extradition law protesters from Admiralty. The 16-year-old later told Apple Daily that she “couldn’t breathe,” though police said the use of force was within protocol.

Worldwide controversy

Police chokeholds, including neck restraints, have become a global controversy after Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A white officer – Derek Chauvin – knelt on the back of Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes. His death sparked large-scale protests in the US and around the world, as demonstrators chanted “black lives matter” in opposition to racism and police brutality.

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Anti-racism protest in New York City. Photo: United Nations/Evan Schneider.

Several cities in the US have prohibited the use of chokeholds, including San Diego, Miami, Chicago and Minneapolis.

France also introduced a ban on chokeholds last month, only to backtrack on its decision after protests staged by officers who said their lives could be at risk.

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.