Hong Kong police yesterday drew flak over their rough arrest of a 12-year-old girl, who said she was caught in a crowd of protesters while out buying art supplies.
Viral video footage showed riot police rounding up a group of people in Mong Kok, including the girl, who tried to flee but was roughly pushed to the ground and pinned down by officers.
She was among about 300 people arrested on Sunday amid the city's biggest street protest since July 1, as hundreds demonstrated against the postponement of legislative elections and a new national security law.
The girl, who was bruised in the ordeal, said she had gone out with her elder brother to buy art supplies for school, but they were forced to turn back as the area had been cordoned off by police.
"When the police suddenly rushed over, I was very scared," she told local broadcaster i-Cable News. "They instructed us to stand there, but I panicked, so I ran."
The police force confirmed the incident, but defended its officers in a statement posted on Facebook, saying that the girl had acted "suspiciously" and that "minimum necessary force" had been used on her.
The girl's mother told Apple Daily she would file a formal complaint, adding that both her children were fined under virus-related laws against gatherings.
Pro-democracy legislator Claudia Mo said the incident "showed how unnecessarily jumpy trigger-happy Hong Kong police had become", The Guardian reported.
Sunday's protests marked the day legislative elections would have been held, had Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam not postponed them for a year owing to the danger of fuelling the city's Covid-19 outbreak.
She has been accused of using the pandemic to suppress the opposition.
Protesters also called for the release of 12 Hong Kongers arrested by the Chinese coast guard while trying to flee to Taiwan in a speedboat. The group had been intercepted some 70km south-east of Hong Kong on Aug 23.
They were handed over to the police in neighbouring Shenzhen and have since disappeared into China's opaque judicial system.
Lawyers representing some of them yesterday said they had been denied access to their clients.
"They said I can't prove that the instructions I have came from family members, even though I have provided my client's birth certificate issued in Hong Kong," said Mr Ren Quanniu, a lawyer who travelled 1,500km from central China to Shenzhen.
He said the police officer in charge of the case refused to receive legal documents, including a written request for his client Wong Wai Yin to be handed back to Hong Kong jurisdiction.
Mr Lu Siwei, another lawyer, said he had a similar experience when he tried to visit his client in detention last week.
Both lawyers said Shenzhen police were treating the case as an "illegal border crossing", an offence that carries up to a year in jail.
But Mr Lu said police had informed him that some of the detainees may also face the more serious charge of "organising others to cross the border illegally", which carries sentences of up to life in jail.
The prospect of Hong Kongers getting entangled in China's judicial system was the spark that last year lit seven months of huge and often violent pro-democracy protests.
• Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse