A person puts tear-gas canisters into a bag during a protest in Hong Kong last year. Photo: Asia Times

A long-awaited report released by the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) on Friday has failed to resolve the disputes related to last year’s anti-extradition protests, said both pro-Beijing and pro-democracy lawmakers.

The IPCC has concluded in its report that there are no systemic problems in the police force, and officers did not collude with an armed gang that attacked passengers at the Yuen Long MTR station on July 21 last year. It also labelled as “extraordinary” online claims that police had killed people in Prince Edward Station on the evening of August 31, when riot officers stormed through the station.

“If people had been killed inside the station, relatives of the deceased would soon report them missing and would come forward to tell the public,” said the report.

The IPCC defended the use of force by officers in policing the months of unrest, noting that the protests have “metamorphasized from initial peaceful processions and public meetings to extreme forms of violent protests in the streets, resulting in destruction of public and private property, disruption of our transport infrastructure, and serious injury (and in one case death) of many citizens holding different views.”

IPCC chairman Anthony Neoh said the video showing that a police commander patted the shoulder of a person dressed in white was not strong enough to prove that the police had colluded with the attackers on July 21. He also said the IPCC checked the CCTV footages in Prince Edward Station on the evening of August 31 and believed that some videos were missing because cameras were broken.

However, the report said there was “room for improvement” in how the force dealt with anti-government protests since last June. It raised 52 recommendations that the police force should launch guidelines concerning the use of force and weapons and increase transparency.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said in a media briefing that the government accepts the 52 recommendations raised by the IPCC report and has assigned a special team under the Security Bureau to supervise the implementation of the advice. She said there is no need to set up an independent inquiry into the police. She admitted that the government has not made any significant progress in terms of the formation of an independent review committee proposed last year due to the epidemic.

Since last June, anti-extradition protesters have organized several hundred rallies in Hong Kong, with some of them turning into confrontations with the police. They complained that the police had used excessive force in operations and misused weapons including tear gases, pepper balls and pepper spray. They also accused the police of colluding with the attackers in Yuen Long MTR station on July 21, inhumanely treating detainees in the remote San Uk Ling Holding Center on August 11 and attacking passengers in Prince Edward station on August 31. 

Men wearing white attacked people in the Yuen Long MTR station on July 21, 2019. Photo: RTHK
Police did not arrest any white-clad attackers in Yuen Long on July 21, 2019. Photo: RHTK

The government said last year it would consider other options if the public was not satisfied with the IPCC report. Last December, members of the Independent Expert Panel of the IPCC said they were quitting as the watchdog was not fit for purpose “in a society that values freedoms and rights.” They concluded that “a crucial shortfall was evident in the powers, capacity and independent investigative capability of IPCC.”

Read: Overseas experts quit HK police watchdog panel

On Friday, Sin Ka-ho, a 22-year-old lifeguard, was sentenced to four years behind bars for his role in the protest outside Legco on June 12 last year. He had earlier pleaded guilty to the charge of rioting at the District Court after police arrested him near an entrance of the Legco complex following clashes between protesters and police. He is the first person to plead guilty to rioting charges related to the anti-extradition protests.

Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, a lawmaker of the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong, said she welcomes the IPCC report as it addressed the issues relating to last year’s large-scale protests professionally and reasonably. However, she said it would be unrealistic to hope that the report can resolve the social conflicts. She said it’s time to set up an independent review committee to look into the social conflicts and investigate the illegal and violent behaviour of the protesters.

Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, a pro-Beijing legislator, who was seen shaking hands with the gangsters shortly before the Yuen Long attack, said the report is fair and independent and has cleared his name in relation to the July 21 incident.

Lam Cheuk-ting, a Democratic Party lawmaker, said the IPCC report is a “rubbish” as it has distorted and ignored a lot of facts in last year’s protests, particularly the July 21 incident. Lam was among one of the victims who were beaten up by hundreds of white-shirted people in the incident.

Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit, convener of the Civil Human Rights Front, said the IPCC report is biased and has blurred the police misconduct. Sham said the report was a tool to support the police.

Political commentator Yau Ching-yuen said the IPCC report was expected to be mild in tone as the council was controlled by the pro-Beijing camp and did not have the power to investigate police misconduct. He said the IPCC expressed a bias when it concluded that the police had not colluded with the July 21 attackers by just saying “the shoulder-patting video means nothing.” He said the IPCC should consider all the other details in the incident.

Yau also said the IPCC accepted the views of the police and failed to challenge the police’s internal investigation or raise any reasonable doubts, such as why many people were injured in the Prince Edward station on August 31.

Read: HK police slammed for attacking journalists