Crowd-control equipment deployed by Hong Kong police against civilians during 2019’s anti-extradition protests were – in some instances- akin to torture, according to a report by Amnesty International and Omega Research Centre released on Friday.

The “Ending the Torture Trade” report advocated for global controls to regulate the trade of common police equipment to curb the abuse of power by authorities.

"December 1" Kowloon police orange black flag warning tear gas protester
Photo: May James/HKFP.

In the 39-page report, the UK-based organisations identified the extensive use of baton and tear gas by Hong Kong police against protesters last year as state-sanctioned ill-treatment.

The research drew on first-hand accounts of last year’s protests and unrest during which police deployed batons indiscriminately “to beat protesters who posed no threat and who in some cases were already restrained or attempting to leave a demonstration,” the report read.

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It referred to an account of a woman who was “clubbed from behind” as she attempted to flee from officers in Sheung Wan last July. Officers reportedly continued to beat her after she was restrained, according to earlier research by Amnesty International.

The report also outlined instances of improper and disproportionate use of tear gas and pepper spray, including an incident at Kwai Fong station last August 11 when police fired canisters of tear gas inside a train station.

It further detailed an instance whereby officers fired 14 shots of pepper spray at a man who was sitting on the side of the Lung Wo Road amid the chaos outside the legislature last June 12.

“The use of sprays was clearly unnecessary and disproportionate as the man posed no threat and in fact behaved passively through the whole ordeal,” the report stated.

Anti-Torture Trade Framework

The findings were published in support of an Alliance for Torture-Free Trade conference in New York to be held on Friday. The conference aims to raise awareness for measures to curb the trade of equipment designed to inflict torture or ill-treatment.

In its report, the two organisations called for an international legal instrument to control the trade of policing equipment. “Law enforcement equipment and weapons… can have a legitimate function, when used in strict accordance with international use-of-force standards,” the report read, The same weapons, however, “can be, and readily are, misused by law enforcement officials to torture or ill-treat people.”

police baton protester beat
Photo: Kaiser Tam/USP & HKFP.

“This encompasses a broad range of goods — including pepper spray, tasers and even simple batons, which are produced and marketed on a significant scale by companies throughout the world. The trade in such equipment and weapons… must be strictly controlled,” it added.

The report also drew on cases outside of Hong Kong, including the use of truncheons against detained protesters in Belarus, the shooting of rubber bullets in Lebanon, and the use of tear gas by the Philadelphia police force in the US.

The United National defines torture as any intentionally inflicted act which causes severe mental or physical pain or suffering, for the purposes of intimidation, punishment or forced confession, and is “inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official.” 

The Omega Research Centre is a non-profit research organisation focussed on the manufacture, trade, and use of security equipment.

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Rhoda kwan

Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.