Hong Kong Leader Rejects Protesters’ Call for Independent Police Probe

May 15, 2020 Updated: May 15, 2020

HONG KONG—The Beijing-backed leader of Hong Kong on May 15 ruled out an independent inquiry into allegations of police brutality against pro-democracy protesters, though she did accept a watchdog’s recommendations on tear gas and training.

“I disagree and won’t do it,” Carrie Lam said of the demonstrators’ demand for an independent probe, speaking at a news conference against a backdrop of pictures of blazing protests and a banner saying, “The Truth About Hong Kong.”

Months of protests since mid-2019 against China’s control of the former British colony ebbed during the coronavirus crisis, though arrests of activists in recent days have revived frictions.

Demonstrators accuse police of excessive force, while authorities say protesters have been riotous and provocative.

Lam said an independent inquiry would weaken police powers, though the government will accept recommendations from a police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC).

In its long-awaited, 999-page report, the Lam-appointed IPCC on Friday called for a review of guidelines on the use of tear gas and public order training for police.

Riot police disperse anti-government protesters during a protest at Mong Kok in Hong Kong,
Riot police disperse protesters during a protest at Mong Kok in Hong Kong, China on May 10, 2020. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

The report said police acted within guidelines though there was room for improvement. Accusations of police brutality must not be used as “a weapon of political protest,” the IPCC added.

In one of the most controversial episodes, the IPCC said it did not find evidence of police collusion with gang members during a July 21 mob attack in Yuen Long district.

The report did, however, identify deficiencies in police deployment during the incident, when a mob of white-shirted men beat protesters and others with sticks and poles.

The Yuen Long attack intensified a backlash against police who some accused of deliberately responding slowly.

‘Turning A Blind Eye’

Opposition politicians were unimpressed.

“The report has turned a blind eye to disproportional police brutality,” pro-democracy lawmaker Fernando Cheung said. “This report has eliminated what little credibility is left of the IPCC.”

Another lawmaker Kenneth Leung, a former member of the IPCC, said many recommendations “are really piecemeal, superficial, and general” and were insufficient to resolve the issues.

Rights groups including Amnesty International have backed protesters’ complaints over the disproportionate use of force by police and the arrest of more than 8,000 people.

The IPCC report said Hong Kong risked being dragged into an “era of terrorism,” echoing comments by senior Hong Kong and Chinese authorities.

During the most intense clashes, police dispersed protesters with tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets, and several live rounds in the air, in many cases warning crowds beforehand with colored signal banners.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a news conference,
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a news conference, in Hong Kong, China on May 15, 2020. (Jessie Pang/Reuters)

Protesters, many clad in black and wearing masks, responded by throwing petrol bombs at police and central government offices, stormed the Legislative Council, trashed metro stations, and blocked roads.

The protests started as a campaign against a now-shelved extradition bill that would have let criminal suspects be sent to mainland China for trial but evolved into broader calls for greater democracy.

Members of the IPCC, which reviews the work of the Complaints Against Police Office, an internal police department, are appointed by Lam. In December, five foreign experts quit from advisory roles because of doubts about its independence.

Police handling of protests came under fresh scrutiny on the weekend when officers pepper-sprayed journalists and made some kneel in a cordoned-off area. In a rare move, the police chief said on Tuesday his officers should have acted more professionally.

By Jessie Pang, Sarah Wu, Marius Zaharia, Twinnie Siu and Felix Tam