On 21 June 2019, Civil Rights Observer (CRO) launched the 「Support Platform for Victims of Police Brutality」 (Support Platform), in order to gather evidence on the recent cases of police excessive use of force and abuse of power against protesters, and to assist follow-up work for the victims. Up until 6:00pm on 23 June 2019, we have received 35 cases, of which 27 were submitted by victims and eight by witnesses.
CRO formed an expert investigation team comprised of social workers and lawyers and is currently in the process of meeting the victims and witnesses in these cases individually to record their complete accounts and begin follow-up work. This includes preparing for civil suits, criminal prosecution and seeking police accountability through the Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO).
CRO notes that some of the victims have stressed they were subject to sudden violent treatment from police even though they participated in the protests in a completely peaceful manner and did not engage in any disputes with police officers. One protester said he was surrounded by multiple officers and beaten with batons and shields on the afternoon of June 12. After he fell to the ground in the attack, officers continued to punch and kick him. This protester was later dragged away by other police officers followed by immediate first aid. The expert team is currently investigating how to follow-up on this case.
There is another case we received, a protester said he had been using peaceful means of protest all along. When the police began their clearance operations in and around Admiralty and the Legislative Council, he was driven away along with other protesters. When he was leaving in the direction towards Central at Harcourt Road, he was attacked from behind by three members of the Police Special Tactical Squad using batons. He fell to the ground, and in the process, the police beat him with their long shields, injuring his legs. When he tried to turn around to look at his attackers, the officers sprayed him in the face with pepper spray, before proceeding to beat him with their batons. According to the victim, officers beat him with batons more than ten times. He added that there were many protesters gathered at Harcourt Road at the time, so it was basically impossible for them to all leave at once. In such circumstances, people were pushing onto others. He said that because many protesters in front of him and near him fell over, he was temporarily trapped among the crowd.
Apart from this, we also received a case where a peaceful protester is suspected to have been wounded by a teargas canister that hit his upper chest. CRO believes this case shows police were using firearms in a dangerous manner. Such a shot could have led to the cessation of a victim’s heartbeat or breathing. CRO points out that according to the Geneva Guidelines on Less-Lethal Weapons and Related Equipment in Law Enforcement, the shooting of teargas into the upper body or face constitutes unlawful force and should be strictly prohibited.
CRO believes that it is an objective fact that police used excessive force in their operations in and around Admiralty on June 12, in contravention of the right to free assembly and personal safety protected by Hong Kong law. At the same time, their actions clearly violated the human rights standards of international law. CRO points out that in view of the publicly available footage, the observations of CRO’s human rights observers and the cases submitted through the Support Platform, there is a substantial number of incidents in which some police officers have used unlawful force against protesters, and that this use of force has reached the level where it can be subject to criminal prosecution. CRO calls on the Department of Justice to proactively approach the police to understand the situation, to review police and public footage of police operations on the day, as well as publicly available television livestreams. It should recommend that serious violation cases be referred to CAPO for investigation.
CRO believes that the excessive use of force should not be merely considered as the actions of individual officers but also involves the culture within the police force, its training and the attitude it adopts to dealing with protest activities. The CAPO is not the most suitable mechanism to fundamentally resolve these macro-level problems.
CRO calls on the government to set up an independent investigation committee and to fully and comprehensively review the way police handled the large-scale protests against the amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance. This includes a review of policing policy, strategy and training of officers in dealing with protest actions, as well as the principles and protocols for use of force. This would enable police to prevent making the same mistakes and halt the continuing deterioration in relations between police and the public.
Remark: Masculine pronoun is used in this press release with a gender-neutral meaning in referring to subject of the case.