Hong Kong’s internal police complaints body has found no wrongdoing on the part of an officer who removed a pro-democracy figure’s goggles to pepper-spray his face at close-range during a demonstration in Causeway Bay in January 2020.

Former opposition lawmaker Ted Hui had filed a complaint to the Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO) that an officer had abused his power by “unreasonably” removing his face mask to pepper spray him.

Photo: HKFP Screenshot.

Video footage from the incident shows the officer removing Hui’s protective goggles twice to squirt pepper-spray at his face. The officer can be heard shouting at Hui to leave while Hui asks the officer why he had taken off his goggles.

In a letter to Hui on Tuesday, the office said Hui’s complaints were unsubstantiated and cleared the officer of any fault after investigating the officer involved and reviewing related video footage.

“On January 1, 2020 at around 8pm on Hennessy Road… the police were conducting a crowd-dispersing operation and had given you and other demonstrators multiple verbal warnings and displayed warning flags,” the letter read. “At the time, the police were facing a large volume of violent demonstrators and had no other option but to use the minimum level of force – that is, to spray pepper spray at you and other demonstrators. Therefore, we classify this allegation as ‘without fault.'”

CAPO is a unit of the police force which investigates complaints against its own officers.

The Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) also agreed with the findings, according to the letter. The IPCC is the official watchdog tasked with reviewing the work of CAPO. The Council reports directly to the chief executive and has faced criticism for lacking independence. Its 999-page report on the citywide 2019 pro-democracy protests largely cleared the Force of wrongdoing.

The letter also cleared the officer of other complaints filed by Hui, including that the officer had been “negligent in carrying out his duties” by not wearing any identifiers or showing his face and “inappropriate” in donning an unofficial badge which read: “Police, Bad-Ass.” The force has previous said such badges helped to “boost morale” despite the police uniform code not allowing officers to embellish uniforms issued by the force.

The letter said the officer’s badge “did not affect the police force’s image or its effectiveness.”

The office added that, despite its findings of “no fault,” the officer in question has been “appropriately instructed” in order to “raise the quality” of police service to better meet the general public’s expectations. The force gave Hui 30 days to file a request for the decision to be reviewed.

‘Expose police brutality’

Posting the findings on his Facebook page on Tuesday, Hui accused the police of protecting its own: “Of course, when tyranny reigns, nobody will have any expectations of the degenerate police force, as long as it’s politically correct, and the regime will shelter the police from any despicable behaviour,” Hui wrote on Tuesday.

He added that he had made the letter public to “expose police brutality to the whole world, to write a tyrannical government’s evil deeds into history, to let the Hong Kong police forever be disregarded by its citizens.”

Ted Hui. File Photo: May James/HKFP.

The self-exiled lawmaker called on Hongkongers to continue to resist:”We must not get used to this absurdity and darkness.”

On New Year’s Day 2020 an estimated one million Hongkongers participated in an authorised pro-democracy demonstration which was abruptly cut short by police after some protesters vandalised an HSBC branch, with police deploying water cannons, tear gas and pepper-spray and arresting 287 people.

Hui, who is currently in self-exile in Australia, faces nine criminal charges in Hong Kong relating to unauthorised assemblies and protests against the now-passed national anthem law in the legislative chamber during his time as a lawmaker. He left the city last November and relocated with his family to Australia by way of Denmark and the UK.

Ted Hui. File Photo: May James/HKFP.

During the pro-democracy protests, the ex-opposition lawmaker was often seen on the front-lines attempting to de-escalate tensions between protesters and police.

Months of protests erupted in Hong Kong in mid-2019 in response to an extradition bill that would have exposed Hongkongers to China’s opaque legal system. Peaceful mass demonstrations descended into often violent clashes between protesters and police amid allegations of police brutality and a lack of accountability.

A report released last November by a British policing expert found that the police had played a pivotal role in radicalising the protests, over which 10,000 young protesters have been detained.

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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.