A Hong Kong NGO has urged police to review guidelines on the use of force after an officer shot an unarmed Filipino man in Peng Chau, questioning also if “racial and cultural insensitivity” had played a role in police actions.

peng chau shooting shot
Footage circulating online appears to show the fracas on Peng Chau. Photo: Internet.

In a media statement sent on Thursday, Hong Kong Unison said it was “likely that the escalation of events resulting in the use of [a] firearm was a case of misunderstanding and a problem with communication.”

The NGO’s comments were made in response to the shooting on Tuesday night, which occurred when police responded to a noise complaint about a barbecue gathering on the small island of Peng Chau. The 43-year-old Filipino man, who police said appeared to be drunk, allegedly put his hands on an officer’s neck and pushed him down the stairs.

The officer then fired three shots, wounding the man in the arm and abdomen.

The man was airlifted to Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery. He remains in hospital in a serious condition. On Thursday, he was charged with assaulting a police officer. His case was mentioned at the Eastern Magistrates’ Courts on Friday, although he was not present.

Hong Kong Unison
Hong Kong Unison. Photo: Hong Kong Unison.

Hong Kong Unison, which advocates for the rights of ethnic minority communities, urged police to provide racial and cultural sensitivity training to frontline officers. It also advised reviewing guidelines on the use of force and “how police officers deal with non-Chinese speaking persons in particular or other persons who are uncooperative due to emotional, psychological, alcohol or drug-induced conditions.”

The NGO also asked why the officer had fired “so many shots.”

“Did the actions of the man constitute a continuing threat that persisted even after the firing of the first shot?” the statement asked.

The use of live ammunition by Hong Kong police is rare, and the crime rate in Peng Chau – home to a population of around 6,000 – is known to be the lowest of the city’s outlying islands.

View from Finger Hill on Peng Chau island
View from Finger Hill on Peng Chau Island Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Live rounds were used twice during the 2019 protests and unrest. And in March 2009, Dil Bahadur Limbu – an unarmed Nepalese man – was shot dead by a policeman in Ho Man Tin. The incident caused a public outcry among the South Asian community after a coroner ruled his death was “a lawful killing.”

The 43-year-old’s case has been adjourned to February 1.

Life was ‘under threat’

Police have defended the officer’s decision to open fire, saying he felt that his life was “under threat.” The man continued to chase and attack the officer on the street, authorities said, and did not respond to multiple verbal warnings.

“In this situation, our officer followed our use of force guidelines,” said Au Yeung Ki, an acting marine police superintendent, adding that the man was 1.8 metres tall and of a “burly” build.

He had used his hands to attack the officer, police said, adding that the force was investigating if he had any weapons.

may 24 2020 causeway bay (1)
A police officer with a pepper ball gun. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The police have appealed to anyone who witnessed the incident or had relevant details to come forward.

Another 33-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of assaulting police officers and obstructing police officers in due execution of their duties. He has been released on bail pending further investigation.

Police use of force also came under scrutiny during the 2019 protests and unrests. An investigation by Hong Kong ‘s Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), members of which are all appointed by the chief executive, concluded that officers generally acted within guidelines but there was “room for improvement.”

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.