HK police watchdog probe finds 'many shortcomings'

Hong Kong police have consistently defended their actions as a response to recurring violence from protesters.
Hong Kong police have consistently defended their actions as a response to recurring violence from protesters.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG • An investigation by Hong Kong's police watchdog into the conduct of the city's officers throughout recent unrest has revealed "many shortcomings", according to a local newspaper.

The 300-page report from the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) found a failure to separate peaceful demonstrators from violent protesters, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported yesterday, citing unidentified people.

The probe also determined there was a lack of communication among front-line police commanders during protests and insufficient "ceasefire" guidelines when using tear gas, the newspaper said.

The report, which has not been officially released, is scheduled to be discussed at a meeting of the IPCC this week.

If approved, it would be submitted to Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam for possible release in the coming weeks.

The police have consistently defended their actions as a response to recurring violence from protesters, some hurling petrol bombs and attacking officers.

Mrs Lam's administration has declined to meet protester demands for an independent commission of inquiry into police conduct during the protests and has insisted that the IPCC is the agency that should deal with the matter.

However, the IPCC, which is mandated to look into public complaints against police officers, has come under criticism throughout the special administrative region's seven months of violent unrest for not being fully independent.

That critique was echoed by a government-appointed panel of overseas experts meant to advise the IPCC.

"We ultimately concluded that a crucial shortfall was evident in the powers, capacity and independent investigative capability of the IPCC," the group said, when it announced that it would withdraw from the process.

The IPCC report detailed examinations of several major protests, the Hong Kong Economic Journal said. They included a million-strong rally followed by clashes last June 9, demonstrations on June 12 and the events of July 1, when protesters broke into and ransacked the Legislative Council building.

The report, however, will not feature extended sections on two prominent incidents that heightened outrage against the police: the July 21 attacks on protesters and subway passengers by mobs of men wearing white T-shirts in Yuen Long, and the riot police's Aug 31 storming of a subway station in Prince Edward.

About 7,000 demonstrators have been arrested since protests in the city escalated last June, the South China Morning Post reported.

Police have also used at least 26,000 rounds of tear gas and rubber bullet against the protesters.

Prison officers and Customs and immigration agents have been drafted to bolster police ranks.

The police overtime bill during the months of protests has also soared, approaching HK$1 billion (S$173.3 million).

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2020, with the headline 'HK police watchdog probe finds 'many shortcomings''. Print Edition | Subscribe