All but one police complaint submitted by the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) during the 2019 anti-extradition bill protests has been categorised as “not pursuable” by the force, the press group said on Tuesday.

The HKJA filed 27 complaints involving 26 journalists in September 2019, accusing the police of causing bodily harm to reporters during the demonstrations, which sometimes turned into violent clashes between protesters and the police.

Press freedom journalist police
Photo: Studio Incendo.

According to a press statement published by HKJA on Tuesday, 26 complaints were classified as “not pursuable,” as no further information was submitted to the police.

The HKJA said they were “not surprised” by the response from the Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO), which is an internal police unit. They added that the Independent Police Complaints Council’s (IPCC) also “performs practically no function.”

The press group said that all complaints were filed to the IPCC in September two years ago with the journalists’ real names. The complaints were supported with photos and videos provided by people on the scene.

Protest police press freedom journalist pepper spray
Photo: Studio Incendo.

“Apart from those extremely small groups with limitations from their employers or safety considerations, the majority of the people involved were willing to submit their information to the IPCC,” the press statement read.

The IPCC is an official Hong Kong watchdog tasked with reviewing the work of the Complaints Against Police Office – a unit of the police force which investigates complaints. The Council reports directly to the chief executive and has faced criticism for lacking independence and the power to launch investigations or summon people. Its 999-page report on the citywide 2019 pro-democracy protests largely cleared the Force of wrongdoing.

In November 2020, the Court of First Instance ruled that the current police complaints system was “inadequate” and the government must fulfil an obligation under Article 3 of the Bill of Rights to maintain an effective mechanism. The government is appealing the ruling.

Complainants ‘did not trust police’

Ronson Chan, incumbent chairperson of the HKJA, and then-vice chair in 2019, told HKFP that – while the police had reached out to them and complainants for more information – only one person talked to the force.

Ronson Chan
Chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Association Ronson Chan. File photo: Stand News, via video screenshot.

Chan said that relations between the force and journalists were “tense” during 2019, and that reporters “did not trust the police,” which he thought was one of the reasons why there were not more people sharing information with them.

The chairperson said that, instead of just using the powers as prescribed by the law, they “expected that the IPCC would take a more active role” in investigating complaints.

Veby Mega Indah
Indonesian journalist Veby Mega Indah was blinded by a police projectile in 2019. Photo: Citizen News.

Commercial Radio reported on Monday that the police found sufficient evidence to prove that an officer “impolitely shouted” at their reporter on September 12, 2019 in Admiralty.

However, the police said that the claim made by the same reporter accusing the police of beating them with a baton was not pursuable, as the video did not record the incident in detail or reveal the identity of the officer in question.

Chan said he thought that, in cases involving some missing information, the police “would not help to investigate further.”

“The association reiterates that, under the current mechanism, CAPO and the IPCC cannot effectively carry out their duties, and to this [we] express disappointment, and express regret for not being able to help all people involved to claim justice,” the HKJA statement read.

The police told HKFP their investigations were conducted fairly: “After receiving the relevant complaints, CAPO had completed the investigation fairly and justly in accordance with the prescribed mechanism… CAPO will not comment on individual cases.”

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.