HONG KONG • More than 30,000 people gathered in Hong Kong this week to show their support for seven police officers who were sentenced to two years in jail for beating up a pro-democracy activist in 2014, reports said. Television news footage showed long queues leading to the packed football pitch of the Police Sports and Recreational Club in Kowloon on Wednesday, with off-duty and retired members of the force making up much of the crowd, according to media reports.
"The message is we support the families of the seven," an unnamed officer told the South China Morning Post. The event was organised by a number of associations affiliated with the police force.
The officers were convicted and sentenced last week of assault, causing bodily harm to Civic Party activist Ken Tsang, but were acquitted of a more serious charge of grievous bodily harm with intent.
Video footage of the attack, filmed by a local network near the city's government headquarters, shocked residents and dented their faith in the usually trusted police force.
It showed a group of men hauling a handcuffed Tsang to a dark corner in a public park, where he was beaten. One man stood over him inflicting blows while others were seen repeatedly kicking him.
The police have been criticised for their sometimes heavy-handed treatment of protesters during 79 days of rallies and street blockades in 2014, known as the Umbrella Movement, that brought parts of the city to a standstill.
The demonstrators were seeking fully free elections to choose the future leaders of semi-autonomous Hong Kong, where concern is growing that the Chinese authorities are tightening their grip on the city.
The defence argued in mitigation that the officers had been under intense pressure during the protests, which had hurt morale with a number of officers injured.