The current frenzy over the health of K, the woman first aider who was shot in the eye on August 11 two years ago during  a protest outside the Tsim Sha Tsui police station, has been quite nauseating.

It started, apparently, with a piece in the Oriental Daily — an exclusive, no less — saying that she had been spotted at the airport last September leaving for Taiwan, and being seen off by friends and family. Her right eye, the OD’s opthalmically alert reporter noted, was not bandaged, and she looked at her mobile phone. So maybe she wasn’t blinded after all.

shot in eye protest airport
File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Cock and bull story

This snippet was taken up by a columnist in Sing Tao. He recalled that at the time of K’s injury it had been a big thing for a while for protesters to wear bandages over one eye. Had the injury been exaggerated for political purposes? Should the national security police not be investigating? He also accused the Hospital Authority of participating in a heinous cover-up by not telling everyone that the controversial eyeball was still intact.

This in turn produced a long anonymous briefing from a nameless police person, reported in the Standard. “The medical report showed that the injury sustained by the woman in her 20s was not very serious. Her eyeball did not burst and was not even hurt. She only sustained injuries on areas surrounding her right eye.” said the nameless police person.

But the report did not say what caused the injury, leaving the sources to try to breathe life into a cock and bull story that the projectile was fired by a protestor.

Elizabeth Quat
Elizabeth Quat. Photo: LegCo.

The sources (could our Secretary for Security, so ready to denounce cowardice among reluctant defendants, do something about this nameless habit among his underlings?) went on to say that K “is now being investigated by police whether she is involved in rioting and she will be wanted if police gather sufficient evidence…”

The Standard went on to say that “lawmakers” – which turned out to mean Elizabeth Quat – wanted the police to find out the cause of the woman’s injury and investigate whether she took part in illegal assemblies.

The following day we were treated to the appearance on the scene of, a website founded by Leung Chun-ying which offers rewards for people who inform on rioters. The site is now offering a million dollars for anyone who will tell them who K (the abbreviation she used for privacy during litigation over police access to her medical records) really is.

This offer was apparently approved by Leung in person, because he said on Facebook that the reward had been increased (previously it was $400,000) because “more information had become available about her whereabouts.”

The police cowardperson was in action again, quoting from the medical report – “her eyeball was not ruptured” – and went on to say that police were “continuing their probe into whether her injury was used to incite hatred”.

Good point

On to the Post’s effort, which had the Hospital Authority denying any wrong-doing: patient’s records were confidential but were produced for police if they had a warrant, as the law required. Elizabeth Quat reappeared, saying that the case showed the need for a law against false news. 

Raymond Yeung
Raymond Yeung. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

The report also quoted Raymond Yeung, who lost 95 per cent of the vision in one eye when it was hit by another mystery projectile during a disturbance, as saying that it was really difficult to tell how well an eye was functioning just by looking at it. A good point.

I take no pleasure in criticising the people who now till the field in which I worked with much pleasure and satisfaction for many years, but there seems to be a lot of junk journalism here.

We do not generally report things that happened six months ago, and even by tabloid standards to make a story of it by offering an instant amateur diagnosis of K’s eye was pathetic. It was hardly to be expected that more than a year after the injury the eye would still be bandaged. People with injured eyes do not, these days, wear a piratical patch over it, any more than people with a leg missing will sport a pegleg, a crutch and a parrot. Times have changed.

police shoot protesters Tai Koo
Police shooting protesters at close range at Tai Koo station, August 11, 2019.

And this may come as news to the Oriental Daily but it is perfectly possible to see and operate a mobile phone with one eye. During my cataract period I did it all the time.

Next point: clearly the police hoped that the medical report they obtained would show that the injury was caused by something other than a police projectile. Fat hope.

If two groups, A and B, are throwing or shooting things at each other and an object hits someone in group B, the default explanation is that it came from group A. Of course in real wars there are occasional examples of what is confusingly known as “friendly fire” in journalistic circles. The official term is a “blue on blue incident”; in the ranks it is known as an “own goal”.

Most of these rather rare events occur when people are using long-range weapons which do not afford the luxury of a good view of what you are shooting at.

protester eye shot treatment
The protester whose eye was shot receiving treatment.

Not supposed to happen

As far as events in 2019 are concerned we know of at least three incidents in which people were hit in the face by police projectiles, and the IPCC’s report accepted, with some reluctance, that on at least one occasion rubber bullets were fired at heads, which is not supposed to happen.

I also recall, in reports of K’s injury, a picture of a pair of goggles lying in a pool of blood, with a police projectile still embedded in the right lens. It is time for police fans to accept that she was shot by your heroes. It may have been an accident in the sense that the shooter did not know she was a first aider, did not know she was a woman, or indeed did not aim at her but had his elbow jogged at the crucial moment. But the sling shot story does not wash, and we can I think exclude the possibility that she hit herself in the face with a brick in an effort to discredit the force.

protester shot in the eye blind rubber bullet injury
Photo: Kiran Ridley.

Another point: there was a judicial review case over K’s medical records because she did not wish them to be shown to the police. Medical records are supposed to be confidential. Police access to them is for the purpose of law enforcement, not to allow anonymous briefings casting aspersions on the victim’s innocence, or implying that owing to the skill and humanity of police shooters they can hit people in the face without bursting an eyeball.

It is curious to compare the police attitude to reporters getting the Transport Department to tell them who owns a particular car – unlawful because the information is not intended for that purpose – and their attitude to the use of confidential medical information for the purposes of anonymous propaganda briefings.

Tipping off the cops

Now we come to Mr Leung’s “reward for information” website. The purpose of this, it says, is to produce information so that people who have not been detected can be investigated and charged by the police. In other words, if you know your next door neighbour was a rioter but has not yet been arrested, you can tip off the cops and collect some of Mr Leung’s dosh.

Leung Chun-ying
Leung Chun-ying. Photo: HKFP.

But in the case of K this is not necessary. The police already know who she is. Otherwise they could not have asked to see her medical records. The only people who do not know who she is are the general public. This is normal. We all have the right to privacy. She has not, so far, been accused of anything. The only effect of Mr Leung’s megabucks will be to violate this lady’s right to privacy and expose her to the usual panoply of on-line abuse, death threats etc. which accrue these days to anyone who is doxxed by the pro-government press.

It is interesting to compare Mr Leung’s action with the legal and political storm which would erupt if I offered a million dollars for anyone who could tell me the name of the policeman who shot K.

This lady has already been shot and injured. I do not doubt that if she returns from Taiwan she will be subjected to further violations of one kind or another. The rule of law in Hong Kong is like Elizabeth Quat’s doctorate. Decorative but bogus. 

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Tim Hamlett came to Hong Kong in 1980 to work for the Hong Kong Standard and has contributed to, or worked for, most of Hong Kong's English-language media outlets, notably as the editor of the Standard's award-winning investigative team, as a columnist in the SCMP and as a presenter of RTHK's Mediawatch. In 1988 he became a full-time journalism teacher. Since officially retiring nine years ago, he has concentrated on music, dance, blogging and a very time-consuming dog.