China has been accused of parachuting undercover officers into Hong Kong to bolster the city’s police force after two months of mass pro-democracy protests.
Professor Jean-Pierre Cabestan, the head of the Department of Government and International Studies at the Hong Kong Baptist University, made the claim in a media interview after weeks of similar rumors circulated around the Special Administrative Region.
“A number of policemen who speak Cantonese from the neighboring Guangdong province [have been secretly added to the 30,000-strong Hong Kong force],” he told the French newspaper Le Figaro.
“I would add that I don’t know the exact number of mainland Chinese police personnel deployed in HK although more recent sources have indicated that it could be around 2,000,” Cabestan added on his Facebook page.
In response, the Hong Kong police branded the allegations as a fabrication. It also condemned suggestions that Beijing was running the show and that the force was under the strict command of Commissioner of Police Steven Lo.
Another weekend of mass protests is planned.
On Friday, hundreds of activists, some wearing face masks and helmets, staged a sit-in at Hong Kong’s International Airport. They were hoping to win support from international visitors for their movement.
“No rioters, only tyranny,” the demonstrators chanted as they began a three-day action – the latest in a string of protests which have rocked the international financial hub.
The protests began two months ago in response to a controversial bill to allow extraditions to mainland China. But they have since morphed into a broader movement, urging authorities to reverse a slide in democratic freedoms.
Protesters also want the direct election of the city’s leader and an investigation into alleged police brutality towards demonstrators.
The government has suspended the extradition bill but failed to fully withdraw it, and protests have become increasingly violent in recent weeks with hundreds of people being arrested.
“We want to let more people know about what’s happening in Hong Kong,” one activist, who asked to be identified only by her surname Choi, said.
“We want the government to withdraw the bill and set up an independent inquiry commission,” she added.
As the protest movement has expanded, demonstrators have staged rallies across Hong Kong, attracting families, older people, civil servants, and lawyers.
They have also announced a series of marches across the city on Saturday and Sunday as they work to keep the momentum alive and demonstrate continued support for their goals.
The rumor of mainland reinforcements began to circulate this week after police were seen deploying increasingly tough tactics during the skirmishes that followed a city-wide strike on Monday.
Observers say deploying Chinese officers and troops as local policemen could be a stop-gap measure to reinforce a demoralized police force, while avoiding the suggestion that Beijing is not abiding by the “one country, two systems” agreement with Hong Kong, and the perception that there could be a repeat of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.
Meanwhile, a massive police dragnet was conducted to find protesters who charged police lines and vandalized police stations. Police arrested a Baptist University student leader after he was found carrying a dozen laser pointers on Tuesday. Undercover anti-triad detectives charged him with possession of offensive weapons and attempted wounding. The student was hospitalized with neck injuries after he resisted arrest.
Police later fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters who gathered outside a police station in Kowloon, who were galvanized by what they called the police’s “abuse of power.” Riot policemen were spotted dashing out under the cover of tear gas and corraling people on a narrow path.
Police also noted this week that more than 2,000 canisters of tear gas and 300 rubber bullets had been fired at demonstrators since the protests began in June.
In Shenzhen, the Guangdong provincial authorities also massed tens of thousands of police officers in the city for a massive anti-riot and anti-terrorism drill on Monday and Tuesday, which saw the use of armored vehicles, speedboats, helicopters and tear gas.