The Hong Kong Police Force has rejected accusations in a report released by Amnesty International on Thursday that found an alarming pattern of reckless and unlawful tactics used by police in their handling of protesters in recent weeks.
The rights group said its findings were based on interviews with 38 people, including 21 who were arrested, along with lawyers, medical professionals and first-responders, plus video footage and photos of protests from September 5 to 12.
Eighteen of the 21 people who were arrested said they had to go to hospital because they were beaten by police. Three had to spend at least five days in hospital.
Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty’s director for East Asia, said some cases had seen live around the world but other abuse had happened “out of sight” and was very disturbing.
“The evidence leaves little room for doubt – in an apparent thirst for retaliation, Hong Kong’s security forces have engaged in a disturbing pattern of reckless and unlawful tactics against people during the protests. This has included arbitrary arrests and retaliatory violence against arrested persons in custody, some of which has amounted to torture.”
He also said a “climate of fear” left many people reluctant to come forward to talk about what happened to them.
Mass rallies have taken place in Hong Kong since June, when the city government proposed changes to the extradition bill which would allow suspects to be sent to face trials in mainland China. Most of the protests have been peaceful but some have become violent as tension escalated after allegations of police using excessive force.
Uncooperative detainees ‘punished’
To date, the police have arrested 1,453 people and laid charges against around 200 people.
Amnesty said police violence usually occurred before and during arrests. But in several cases, detained protesters had also been severely beaten in custody and suffered ill-treatment which the group says amounts to torture.
In multiple instances, the abuse appeared to have been meted out as “punishment” for talking back or appearing uncooperative.
In one case, a man detained at a police station following his arrest at a protest in the New Territories in August said that after he refused to answer a police question, several officers took him to another room. He said he was beaten severely and they allegedly threatened to break his hands if he tried to protect himself.
“I felt my legs hit with something really hard. Then one [officer] flipped me over and put his knees on my chest. I felt the pain in my bones and couldn’t breathe. I tried to shout out but I couldn’t breathe and couldn’t talk,” he said.
While he was pinned to the ground, a police officer allegedly forced open one of his eyes and shined a laser pen into it, while asking, “Don’t you like to point this at people?”
This could be a retaliatory tactic, if true. At protests sites, some protesters have shone laser pens at police, although mostly from a long distance as they try to avoid getting too near to officers.
The man was later hospitalized with a bone fracture and internal bleeding.
Another man arrested in August in Sham Shui Po told the rights group that after being arrested, officers repeatedly asked him to unlock his phone so they could inspect it. The man refused, which angered them. The officers then allegedly threatened to electrocute the man’s genitals.
The same man said he witnessed police forcing a boy to shine a laser pen into his own eye for about 20 seconds while they were detained in a police station.
The rights group said they found a clear pattern of police using excessive force on protesters during arrest, with riot police and the “raptors” – the elite special tactical officers – allegedly responsible for the worst violence.
Some protesters said they were being beaten with batons and fists while being arrested. One woman said officers continued to beat her even when her hands were bound.
The group also found multiple instances of arbitrary and unlawful arrest and numerous cases where police denied or delayed access to lawyers and medical care for detainees.
The report is similar to a series of indictments relating to police violence in Hong Kong.
Earlier, UN rights experts voiced alarm over the Hong Kong police’s pattern of attacks on and arrests of protesters.
Democracy activists Denise Ho and Joshua Wong gave similar testimony before a US congressional committee on China about the Hong Kong protests early this week.
Amnesty called for the government to set up an independent investigation to give justice on the protests, saying the existing internal mechanism – the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) – was not trusted by the public.
The police claim they have always respected the dignity, rights and privacy of those in custody, Radio Television Hong Kong reported.
They say officers will send detainees to hospital if they need medical treatment. Detainees are also allowed to contact others and seek legal assistance if that doesn’t hinder police investigations and judicial procedures.
Officers say there are strict regulations over the use of force, and that a minimum level of force must be used to achieve their purpose.
They do not comment on individual cases and say detainees who are not happy with police action can lodge a complaint under the existing mechanism.
Meanwhile, a group of protesters who claimed they were abused by police, has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise HK$10 million (US$1.28 million) to sue the officers involved.
The group said they hope to get at least 10 people to lodge civil cases seeking claims for their alleged suffering.
Six victims showed up at a press conference on Thursday, including Ng Ying-mo, a man who was shot in the stomach with a rubber bullet during the protest in Admiralty on June 12. His daughter Frances said officers continued to beat her father even after he got shot and had been subdued. She claims this delayed him getting medical treatment.
Another man surnamed Lam said he suffered a bone fracture when he was pushed to the ground by suspected undercover police in Causeway Bay on August 11.
The group also plans to use funds raised through their “Sue the Abuser” campaign to back judicial reviews filed over the lack of visible identification of frontline police officers.
People say it is difficult to file complaints because frontline police have not carried warrant cards or identification.