HONG KONG - JULY 27 2019: Hong Kong reporters taking photos of a tear gas thrown to the protesters by the police (Photo by LO Kin-hei. Photos from Shutterstock).

“Checks and balances” absent in Hong Kong police force, superiors allegedly turn a blind eye on errant police officers

Torture in police detention, acts of unprecedented violence and brutal tactics are among some of the signs of the Hong Kong police force’s brutality against pro-democracy protesters.

Riot police officers have been known to deploy tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and water cannons against protesters during clashes since June, and up to as recently as early this month. Some of the protesters have also previously hurled petrol bombs and bricks at the officers.

Even journalists, including foreign and overseas-based ones, are not spared from said brutality.

Hong Kong and New York-based journalist Suzanne Sataline, in an article published on The Atlantic just last month, narrated being pushed by riot police officers using round shields, being hit on the top of her head and having a baton pointed “inches from face”, despite clearly displaying her overseas press credentials which were written in English.

A month prior to that, it was reported that Indonesian journalist Veby Mega Indah, who is also an associate editor with Suara Hong Kong News, was hit by a riot police officer using a rubber bullet during her coverage of the unrest, despite being clothed in full press gear. She was left with permanent blindness in her right eye as a result of the injury she sustained.

Reports of police officers obscuring their faces and taking off their identification numbers to avoid prosecution for such acts have also surfaced at some points throughout the protests.

Police officers, however, have cited the need to avoid “doxxing” as a reason to hide their identity as police officers — a practice a frontline police officer in his twenties who opted to remain anonymous had become a target of.

“No one follows the rules and guidelines any more … When my colleagues break the law, they never admit it and our superiors provide cover for them,” he told Financial Times.

Said police officer, however, admitted that it is not easy to voice out his concerns within the police force, as “checks and balances” have ceased to exist in the force at this point.

Head of the Hong Kong police force’s public relations branch John Tse, however, defended such actions committed by police officers, and argued that it would be unfair “for anyone to put the blame on police officers for the current chaotic and panicked situation”.

“Who would have imagined a university has become a manufacturing base for petrol bombs and a refuge for rioters and criminals?” Tse was quoted as saying by FT, in reference to the situation at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, in which thousands of student protesters swarmed into the university and occupied the campus.

Riot police surrounded university grounds and accused protesters of turning PolyU and other universities into “weapons factories” that “look like military training grounds”, CNN reported on Tue.

The special administrative region has been rocked by seismic pro-democracy protests for nearly eight months, which began as a rally against a controversial extradition Bill on 31 Mar. While the Bill has now been fully withdrawn by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the movement has expanded into rallying calls for freedom and democracy in Hong Kong.

The four other demands placed by the protesters from the Hong Kong government are the resignation of Carrie Lam as Chief Executive, an inquiry into police brutality during the protests, the release of those arrested during the course of the protests, and greater democratic freedoms.

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