Civil Rights Observer’s Report on Police Use of Force on 12 June Protest

Protests against the Extradition Bill has continued into the eighth month. On 12 June last year, the Legislative Council proceeded with the second reading of the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (the “Extradition Bill”). Many citizens gathered outside the Legislative Council Complex and occupied roads in Admiralty. The abuse of power by the police when dispersing protesters by force led to a public outcry. This marked the beginning of a longstanding civil movement. Today, Civil Rights Observer (CRO) publishes “Report on Police Use of Force in Handling the Anti-Extradition Bill Protest in and around Admiralty, Hong Kong on 12 June 2019” and confirms at least 16 counts of incidents involving police’s use of excessive and illegal forces. The report is based on interviews with 23 witnesses and victims, information gathered by observers on the day, and review of 59-hour long footages taken by media and citizens. CRO seeks to record police’s abuse of power through this detailed report and facilitates future complaints and litigation at United Nations committees.

The incidents involving the police’s use of excessive and illegal force include:

  1. The police’s sudden disperse of lawful assembly, almost resulting in stampedes. The Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) received the police’s Letter of No Objection prior to the assembly at Lung Wui Road. 12 witnesses confirmed that the police fired numerous tear gas rounds at both ends of the road within a very short time with no prior warning. Hundreds of participants were surrounded and rushed into CITIC Tower escaping the tear gas. Interviewees on the fifth floor of CITIC tower at the time were affected by tear gas and suffocated for a few minutes.
  • The police’s improper use of tear gas. The police fired tear gas rounds targeting at citizens at horizontal angles; aimed the tear gas at pedestrians and reporters on footbridges; shot tear gas rounds at protesters presenting no aggressive behaviours; and threw tear gas to media and first-aid stations. At least one citizen was hit by the tear gas round in the abdomen.
  • The police’s assault on subdued protesters and those who did not resist and obviously excessive use of force. As CRO volunteers indicated, a man delivering water near the Edinburgh Place was surrounded by police and subdued on the ground. Showing no resistance, he was still hit by the police with batons. A CRO observer also witnessed a protester being subdued and assaulted by the police after he was shot potentially by a rubber bullet. About 30 police officers lined up to block the sight of media. A protester was assaulted with batons and shields after she was held, with arms bracing her head.

In the report, CRO makes twelve recommendations, including the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry that investigates police abuse, prosecute police officers deploying illegal and excessive forces, compensate affected citizens, reform the existing check-and-balance mechanisms in the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) and the Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO), establish a fully independent and binding mechanism to regulate police behaviours, and address complaints against improper use of force and power abuse. CRO also demands the police to make public its guidance on the use of force and ensure that the guidance is meeting international standards. In dispersing crowds, the police shall avoid using kettling tactic, provide clear guidance, route and time for the crowd to leave. Police officers shall present their warrants or identification number at a visible place when on duty.

Police violence has since become more and more common and serious. The first interim report by the IPCC was scheduled to be released in early 2020. But the IPCC on 16 January decided to delay the release of this report until after the judgment of the judicial review challenging the council’s investigative authority. CRO is of the view that IPCC’s transparency is in doubt and this reflects total failure of the existing check-and-balance mechanisms.

CRO believes, the incidents involving the police’s use of excessive and illegal force on 12 June were much more than the cases we confirmed. Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s denial to the accusations of police brutality recently is ignoring the fact, and condoning the police abuse of power. CRO reiterates that according to the “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” (ICCPR), police has a positive obligation to facilitate peaceful assembly; the “Convention against Torture” (CAT) also mentioned that the government shall prevent acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. CRO will submit the report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the committee is expected to scrutinise Hong Kong’s compliance with human rights under the ICCPR. Regarding police abuse of power and use of force, CRO will continue to follow the issues and publish more investigative reports. It is hoped that the local and international community will continue to pay attention to the abuse of power by Hong Kong Police Force.

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