Reprimanding a police officer for firing a sponge grenade does not mean that the act was wrong, Hong Kong’s security chief has said. His comment came after the police ruled that a complaint filed by a journalist who was allegedly hit by a non-lethal projectile during the 2019 protests was “unsubstantiated.”

The reporter, who used to work for Commercial Radio, filed his complaint to the Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO) after being shot at by riot police in Mong Kok in November 2019, the outlet reported.

Mong Kok. File photo: Jimmy Lam/United Social Press.

According to Commercial Radio, the reporter was caught up as police dispersed protesters in the area. According to the outlet, riot police pushed the reporter and threatened to arrest him.

The journalist heard a gun shot when he was turning to leave and later found that his backpack had been shot. Sponge grenades were found at the scene.

After reviewing the evidence, CAPO ruled that neither the police pursuit not the firing of sponge grenades were unreasonable, as the reporter had ignored multiple requests to leave, and had run away after touching a police officer’s hand.

The office said that as there was not sufficient evidence to support the complaint, it was found to be “unsubstantiated.”

Tang, who was the commissioner of police at the time of the incident, said that he had “reprimanded” the officer involved in the incident. However, the secretary for security said that even though he had scolded the officer, it did not mean that they had been wrong to react in the way they had.

“At the time I was the commissioner of police, I thought there was room for improvement in the incident… that’s why I reprimanded the officer by reminding them to do better,” Tang said on Monday.

Secretary for Security Chris Tang speaking to the press on September 19, 2022. Photo: RTHK, via video screenshot.

According to Commercial Radio, CAPO’s conclusion was “incompatible” with what was understood as fact by the media outlet, adding that the reporter had not proactively touched an officer’s hand and had not been running from arrest.

The media outlet also said that it would request the police to review the investigation results.

CAPO also found another complaint filed by the same reporter – that an officer had pushed away his phone and pulled his gas mask down – to be “unsubstantiated.” The office said that the officer denied the allegation and there was no footage of the alleged incident.

The police told HKFP that CAPO would not comment on individual cases.

“After the police had received the relevant complaints, the Complaints Against Police office completed the investigation of the case in accordance with the prescribed procedure in a just and fair manner.”

Protests erupted in June 2019 over a proposed amendment to the city’s extradition bill. They escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police behaviour, amid calls for democracy and anger over Beijing’s encroachment. Demonstrators demanded an independent probe into the police conduct, amnesty for those arrested and a halt to the characterisation of protests as “riots.” 

During the protests, the police were criticised for their treatment of the press, with journalists staging protests at police press conferences. However, many of the press complaints filed against the police by the city’s largest press group, Hong Kong Journalists Association, were ruled as “not pursuable” by the force.

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Candice Chau

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.