Hong Kong police commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung has defended the police officer who fired a live round into the chest of a protester from close range on Tuesday as “legal and reasonable”.
A total of six live rounds were fired by police amid chaotic scenes across the city on China’s National Day, which saw pro-democracy protesters wreak havoc in some areas.
Lo stressed that the officer who shot the young man felt that his life was threatened and had warned protesters – to no avail.
“[The officer] feels that his life was threatened and his colleague’s life was threatened. He chose to use a gun to stop the attacker. We think that is reasonable and legal,” Lo said during a press briefing late on Tuesday night.
The police chief said the shooting happened in Tsuen Wan during a clash at around 4pm.
During a clearance operation on Tai Ho Road, a riot police officer was down on the ground and attacked by a group of protesters who tried to spear him with sharpened sticks, Lo said.
When colleagues tried to go to his aid, attackers threw bricks and other hard objects at them. An officer opened fire at that time. Lo said the officers immediately treated the victim’s wounds to save him after he was shot.
The video footage above shows the melee and the shooting. An officer ran in with his revolver drawn to a scene where his colleague was under attack by a group of protesters.
The officer held a long gun, presumably armed with non-lethal rounds in his left hand, as he fired at a young protester who was about an arm’s length away, holding a pole and trying to hit the officer.
The video also shows that the officer had pepper spray with him too.
Lo did not answer when asked by reporters why the officer did not use non-lethal weapons he appeared to be carrying. He also did not comment on why the officer opened fire at such close range – or why he fired at the protester’s chest instead of his limbs.
Lo only said the force would launch a proper investigation into the incident.
Police said the protester was shot “in the area of the left shoulder” – despite video and photos suggesting he was hit in the chest. Lo defended this statement, saying the force did not have x-rays machines, so he was merely giving out the best information they had at the time. He denied that they had sought to give out incorrect information.
Another video showed the injured protester lying on the floor pleading, “Save me. Send me to hospital! My chest is hurting.”
But no officers responded or provided any first-aid treatment until three minutes later when reporters and other protesters who had stayed at the scene urged the officers to help the young man.
The injured protester – an 18-year-old secondary school student from Tsuen Wan Public Ho Chuen Yiu Memorial College – was seen bleeding heavily from his chest.
He was sent to Princess Margaret Hospital in a critical condition before being transferred to Queen Elizabeth Hospital for surgery to have the bullet removed. Ming Pao Daily said the bullet was just three centimeters from his heart but missed his main artery.
The young man is now stable and recuperating in the intensive care unit.
Meanwhile, Lo also revealed that a total of six live rounds were fired by police on the day, including two warning shots by officers who came under attack in Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon.
74 people injured
At least two officers had blood on their faces as they retreated to a police vehicle on Waterloo Road but they got out to tackle a group of protesters after a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the van.
The two shots rang out after an officer was beaten after falling down. Riot police were seen pointing their guns at protesters at close range, which caused the crowd to flee towards Nathan Road.
More shots were fired on Sha Tsui Road in Tsuen Wan and Shatin Pass Rod in Wong Tai Sin but Lo did not provide further details. He said no people were injured during those clashes.
The police chief described Tuesday as “one of the most violent, chaotic days in the history of Hong Kong”, adding that more than 180 people were arrested for a variety of offenses and 25 police officers were injured.
The Hospital Authority said by end of Tuesday, a total of 74 people, aged between 11 and 75 were injured during the clashes. Two individuals, including the schoolboy who was shot, were in a critical condition.
Britain criticized Hong Kong police tactics against the pro-democracy protesters and warned that use of live rounds could heighten long-running tensions.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement, “Whilst there is no excuse for violence, the use of live ammunition is disproportionate, and only risks inflaming the situation.”
The shooting incident showed the need for “constructive dialogue to address the legitimate concerns of the people of Hong Kong.”
“We need to see restraint and a de-escalation from both the protesters and the Hong Kong authorities.”
This came after Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for the European Union, calling for “de-escalation and restraint”.