The Hong Kong Legal Aid Department has denied an application by a secondary school student who was shot by police with a live round during the citywide protests on China’s National Day last year.

According to a letter posted by pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong last Friday, the department said teenager Tsang Chi-kin – who wanted to file a claim for personal injury against the force – failed to show “reasonable grounds” for making the legal proceedings.

A letter from the Legal Aid Department to teenager Tsang Chi-kin posted by pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong on August 14, 2020.

“Having considered all the evidence, we opine that the use of force by the police at the material time was reasonable,” the letter dated July 16, 2020 read.

On October 1, 2019, an officer fired a live round at Tsang at close range as the then-18-year-old clashed with riot police on Hoi Pa Street in Tsuen Wan. He was shot in his left lung – three centimetres from his heart – and was in critical condition when hospitalised. He later went through a surgery to remove the bullet.

Tsang told local media through his lawyer that he was disappointed and angry at the decision by the Legal Aid Department, which he deemed had involved “political considerations.” He said the rejection came shortly after he submitted his application, and said police use of force on him was “absolutely unreasonable.”

Legal Aid Department
Legal Aid Department’s branch in Kowloon. Photo: Chong Fat, via Wikimedia Commons.

Local media reported that in a separate letter, the department said based on the testimony of the officer concerned, he truly believed using a pistol was the only way to protect himself and other officers from “serious bodily harm.” Tsang also failed to provide proof that police had aimed at his heart to cause greater harm, the department said.

Tsang disagreed with such a conclusion: “The trial of the case has not even begun yet, but the Legal Aid Department already made its own decision that police use of force on me was reasonable.” He added he would never forget the pain that was brought onto him by the shooting.

protest police tear gas "October 1, 2019"
Police fire tear gas on October 1, 2019. Photo: Studio Incendo.

In response to HKFP’s enquiries, the Legal Aid Department said on Monday that they could not provide details of an individual case without the applicant’s approval. The department said all civil proceedings had to go through a “merits test,” which would look into the case background, existing evidence and relevant applicable legal principles.

“If an application for legal aid is refused, the applicant may appeal to the Registrar of the High Court. The decision of the Registrar or the High Court is final,” it said in an email reply.

Correction 12:40: An early headline on this article suggested Tsang was “unarmed.” Tsang appeared to be carrying a rod in video clips.

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.