Police brutality at Hong Kong protest sparks outrage

2014-10-15 19:24
(Alex Ogle, AFP)

(Alex Ogle, AFP)

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Hong Kong - Hong Kong police came under fire on Wednesday after plainclothes officers were filmed beating and kicking a handcuffed protester during some of the worst clashes since mass pro-democracy rallies erupted over two weeks ago.

The city's security chief said the accused officers had been "removed" from their posts after the assault that occurred amid violent confrontations when police swooped to clear newly erected barricades blocking a road near government headquarters in the Admiralty district.

Several thousand people gathered late on Wednesday at the main protest site in Admiralty to hear speeches by protest leaders, who urged demonstrators to stay peaceful in the face of violence.

"The major thing is people have realised how police become corrupt under a government that doesn't represent the people of Hong Kong," said Kay Wong, 25, a university research assistant.

"I was shocked at the police violence last night. Who wouldn't be?"

Crowds intermittently numbering in the tens of thousands have blocked main roads in three districts of the semi-autonomous Chinese city since 28 September, protesting at what they call "fake democracy" offered by Beijing.

They are angered at China's insistence that it must vet candidates standing for election as the city's next leader in 2017.

Tensions have risen in recent days as police began tearing down some barricades around protest sites.

In some the worst violence since the rallies began, demonstrators and police fought running battles overnight and early on Wednesday. Officers used fists, batons and pepper spray to beat back crowds in an operation they defended as a necessary response to ensure public order.

But footage from television network TVB later emerged of a group of plainclothes officers assaulting a handcuffed and unarmed protester, sparking outrage and calls for prosecution from activists and lawmakers.

It shows officers hauling the man to a dark corner of a public park, and placing him on the ground.

One officer stands over the man and punches him, as three others are seen repeatedly kicking him in an assault TVB said lasted four minutes.

Police later said seven officers had been identified in relation to the video.

The incident become another public relations disaster for the police, who were severely criticised for firing tear gas on umbrella-wielding protesters on September 28 in a move that attracted worldwide attention.

Demonstrators have also accused officers of failing to come to their aid during several attacks by violent pro-government thugs.

Prominent student leader Joshua Wong said trust between police and activists had hit an all-time low.


Amnesty International also condemned the "vicious" attack.

"It is stomach-churning to think there are Hong Kong police officers that feel they are above the law," Mabel Au, director of Amnesty Hong Kong said in a statement.

Hong Kong's security chief sought to ease tensions over the video, expressing "concern" and promising a "just and fair investigation".

"The policemen who are involved in the incident have been removed from their current working positions," Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said without specifying how many officers were being probed.

While activists have been praised for their civility, their roadblocks have brought widespread disruption to an already densely populated city.

In the last two days, officers have begun removing barricades on the edges of protest sites, shrinking their footprint and opening some roads to traffic, while allowing the bulk of demonstrators to stay in place.

But when protesters erected new barricades in a road tunnel near government headquarters, a wall of police armed with shields and batons marched before dawn on Wednesday on them.

Clutching the umbrellas that have become emblematic of their fight for full democracy, some protesters were pulled to the ground, handcuffed and hauled away by officers.

Police said 37 men and eight women were arrested and four officers were injured.

Within an hour police had regained control of the road.

Ugly scuffles

Following the clashes, a Beijing official said China sees no need "so far" for its army to be deployed to contain the protests.

Rumours have frequently swept protest camps that the People's Liberation Army, which maintains a garrison in the city, will be deployed if Beijing feels Hong Kong police cannot handle the demonstrations.

"We hope that such a scenario will not unfold. The situation is gradually returning to normal," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Hong Kong's richest man Li Ka-shing urged protesters to leave the streets, saying they had got their message across.

"It would be Hong Kong's biggest sorrow if the rule of law is undermined," Li said in a statement.

Protests were largely peaceful until the clashes early on Wednesday. But ugly scuffles have broken out between demonstrators and government loyalists, sparking accusations authorities are using hired gangsters.

Patience with protesters is running short in some quarters, with shop owners and taxi drivers losing business and commuters voicing irritation at disruptions and delays.

However citizens waited for hours on Wednesday evening to file complaints about the videotaped beating.

"The police have completely lost the respect of the people of Hong Kong. I'm speechless," said Amy Chan.

Read more on:    china

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