Following is an urgent question by the Hon Cyd Ho under Rule 24(4) of the Rules of Procedure and a reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Lai Tung-kwok, in the Legislative Council today (October 15):
It has been reported that the repeated use of tear gas and pepper spray by the Police on the 28th of last month to suppress participants of a peaceful assembly has triggered fierce public resentment, and the use of violence by the Police against participants of the peaceful assembly has become the focus of international media. As there are still a lot of members of the public participating in that assembly and the crisis is not yet over, will the Government inform this Council of the decision-making mechanism currently adopted by the authorities concerning the use of lethal weapons such as tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition to disperse participants of peaceful assemblies, including the respective roles under the aforesaid mechanism played by the Chief Executive, the Commissioner of Police and the officials of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, as well as the rank(s) of the officials who are vested with the authority to make the decision of using such weapons; whether it has immediately reviewed the mechanism since the 28th of last month; if it has not, of the immediate measures that will be adopted by the authorities to prevent the Police from unreasonably using lethal weapons against participants of peaceful assemblies, thus leading to tragedies of bloodshed?
On the afternoon of September 28, some protesters broke their way to Harcourt Road, where traffic was running, causing wilfully a massive traffic blockage to sever the transport lifeline of Hong Kong Island. They also resorted to violent acts by charging the Police cordon line. The rally was an unlawful assembly. It was the responsibility of the Police to take resolute measures to restore public order and public safety.
My reply to the Hon Cyd Ho's question is as follows:
There are strict Police guidelines on the use of force, which provide clearly that the force to be used shall be the minimum force necessary for achieving the purpose of a Police operation. All field commanders are authorised to use force based on their professional judgment made in the light of the prevailing situation at scene, overall circumstances and operational needs. They are in no way required to seek their supervisors' advice for each instance. Before force is used, police officers shall, where circumstances permit, give warning of their intention to use force and give the person(s) involved every opportunity to obey police orders. Police officers exercise a high level of restraint at all times in the use of force. There is a clear purpose for the Police to use tear gas, i.e. to deal with crowds that may cause an out-of-control and, therefore, dangerous situation, or to stop and prevent further charging by crowds at Police cordon so as to ensure public safety, restore social order and avoid injuries to both the crowds and the police officers.
Subsequent to the launch of the "Occupy Central" as announced by its founders in the early hours of September 28, a large number of people with different backgrounds joined the student-led assembly outside the Central Government Offices. On the afternoon of the same day, against the Police's appeals and warnings, some radical protesters in the front deliberately charged the Police cordon line on a number of occasions and seized the mills barriers. They even assaulted the police officers with umbrellas and water bottles. Deliberately surging forward in an organised manner, they attempted to break the Police cordon line. Such behaviour put public safety and public order seriously at stake and was in breach of section 18 of the Public Order Ordinance. The Police reiterated repeatedly that the assembly was unlawful, and by means of loudspeakers and warning banners, repeatedly advised participants of the unlawful assembly to leave as soon as possible, while warning that the Police would use force if the participants did not cease charging the Police cordon line.
In the ensuing moments, the Police cordon line was still under serious charging. Given that their advice and warnings were in vain, the Police used Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) foam to stop protesters from further charging in a bid to minimise the chance of injuries to people on the scene. However, the crowd kept growing, and the scene was very chaotic as people continued to gather and launched violent charging despite numerous Police advice and warnings. On that day, quite a number of protesters were equipped with such gear as goggles, face masks, umbrellas and cling film for eye and body protection, which rendered the OC foam ineffective.
As the use of OC foam had failed to achieve the desired effect and stop the situation from further deterioration that might lead to more serious casualties, the Police had no alternative but to use tear gas in a bid to put an immediate halt to the violent charging staged by protesters, to create a safe distance between the police officers and the crowds charging at them for the purposes of minimising the chance of injury to both sides during scuffles as well as preventing serious disruption to social order or even casualties caused by rallies.
In the course of operation, the field commander had made a professional assessment and judgment in the light of the actual circumstances and operational needs at the material time before making the decision to use force. Senior officials of the SAR Government, including the Chief Executive and myself, as well as the Commissioner of Police, had been keeping a close watch on the whole picture and development of the event. We are in support of the Police's professional judgment and the measures taken by them to protect public safety and maintain social order. We consider that the Police were restrained in dealing with the case and that the force they used was appropriate. The operation conducted on the day, being an issue related to the protection of social order and public safety by the Police, was entirely within the jurisdiction of the SAR Government.
I would like to emphasise that tear gas is one of the Police's regular items of equipment in tackling charging acts involving a crowd. In general, it will only trigger temporary discomfort to protestors with charging act. In contemplating the use of force, the Police take tear gas and OC foam as a viable means to stop people from charging and make them disperse by triggering temporary discomfort to them. Once OC foam has failed to counteract effectively the charging launched by large crowds of protesters on the scene, which may possibly lead to a break-off of the Police cordon and a stampede involving a large number of falls, trampling accidents or serious injuries as a result of the charging launched by a great number and layers of protesters, the Police have to use tear gas to put an immediate halt to the charging and create a safe distance to avoid mass and serious casualties on the scene. Under normal circumstances, tear gas and OC foam will not bring about permanent body harm. In many countries (including advanced countries in Europe and America), tear gas is a standard item of equipment for the Police to tackle the charging acts of a crowd. The ways in which they use and the principles that govern such use are similar to those of the Hong Kong Police Force.
I reiterate that the rally on Harcourt Road on the afternoon of September 28, which caused massive traffic blockage to trunk roads and launched violent charging at the Police cordon line, was an unlawful assembly. It is the responsibility of the Police to take resolute measures to restore public order and public safety.
Over the past days, the road blockage in different areas of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon caused by the rallies has paralysed the traffic of major trunk roads, depriving many members of the public of normal daily life. In the interest of their own safety and the community at large, we appeal to protesters on the scenes to leave peacefully as soon as possible to make way for emergency and public vehicles. We also appeal to the protesters to remove obstacles on the roads to restore unimpeded traffic, so that the community's daily life could return to normal.
Ends/Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Issued at HKT 17:40