Following is an urgent question by the Dr Hon Helena Wong 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 on the 3rd and 4th of this month, some members of the public who participated in the Occupy Central movement and gathered in Mong Kok, as well as journalists covering the activities, were assaulted and injured, posing a serious threat to their personal safety. In addition, some female participants of the assembly were allegedly indecently assaulted and sexually harassed. There were media reports that police officers at the scene had let go the assaulters. Furthermore, a reporter of the British Broadcasting Corporation said that based on the information obtained from the Police, the attacks obviously involved triad members. As the assembly is still going on, will the Executive Authorities inform this Council:
(1) whether the Police have immediately reviewed if their failure to prevent the occurrence of incidents in which assembly participants were attacked by a number of triad members was due to inadequacy in their efforts in collecting intelligence on triad activities or their sluggish deployment of police manpower, so as to take measures in the light of the review outcome in order to prevent recurrence of similar incidents; if they have conducted such a review, of the outcome;
(2) as it has been reported that the Police did not forthwith arrest and detain those persons suspected of deliberately provoking, shoving, punching and kicking, as well as indecently assaulting assembly participants, whether the Police will immediately step up law enforcement efforts in order to curb the recurrence of such illegal acts; and
(3) whether they have taken specific immediate measures and followed up on the procedures for making decisions on the handling of the incidents by the Police, in order to prevent assembly participants from being attacked again, and to protect the personal safety of assembly participants and journalists; if they have, of the details?
Since September 29, crowds of people have been occupying major trunk roads in Mong Kok for an unlawful assembly for more than 10 days. Their illegal acts have seriously blocked the traffic and the substantial nuisances they created have caused intense dissatisfaction among the residents and business operators in the District, triggering the recent spate of violent confrontations in Mong Kok in which police officers and members of the public were injured. The SAR Government severely condemns such violent acts on the scene.
My consolidated reply to the Dr Hon Helena Wong is as follows:
The incidents in Mong Kok on October 3 and 4 were mob confrontations that rarely happened in Hong Kong for many years. The incidents occurred all of a sudden with surging crowd size gathering within a very short span of time. A great number of ubiquitous confrontations and physical scuffles took place at different spots of the scene. Confronted with such an extremely chaotic situation on that day, the Police tried their very best to keep the scene under control and maintain order.
From the afternoon of October 3 to the early hours of October 4, big groups of supporters for and against the "Occupy Central" assembled in Mong Kok, which turned into chaos as confrontations broke out between the two sides. In view of the surging crowd size within a short span of time, the Police immediately deployed manpower for reinforcement from various Regions in Hong Kong, Kowloon and New Territories. At the outset, police officers formed a human chain in an attempt to separate the two sides, while making way to escort those who needed assistance, who wished to go away or who were injured to leave the scene. A number of police officers also sustained injuries during the process.
Later on, as the crowd kept growing at the place of the assembly, there were ubiquitous confrontations at scattered points in the area. The Police experienced practical difficulties in dashing to every single confrontation point that required attention. As roads were seriously blocked by the crowds and obstacles, Police vehicles could not get to the scene directly and some police officers even had to be on foot and to take the MTR. The Police's reinforcement actions were thereby hindered.
During the operation on that evening, the Police arrested 19 persons, eight of whom identified with triad background were suspected of assaulting police officers, participating in unlawful assemblies and fighting in public places. As at October 13, a total of 52 persons were arrested for suspected fighting in public places, indecent assault, intimidation, etc during the confrontations in Mong Kok. The Police shall seriously pursue these cases in accordance with the law and they do not rule out further arrests.
Mong Kok, as a crowded and congested area, is prone to conflict. The Police shall spare no effort in following up those suspected illegal acts during the confrontation in question.
As a matter of fact, the Police attach great importance to triad-related crimes, and the combat of triad activities has been one of their operational priorities. Throughout the years, the Police have endeavoured to fight against triad crimes in an impartial and undaunted manner. On the enforcement front, the Police have always adopted a holistic approach in combatting triads and their activities. From January to August this year, a total of 1 194 cases of triad-related crimes were recorded and 1 775 persons were arrested by the Police.
Regarding the remark that the Police did not take immediate enforcement actions against violent acts in the assembly in Mong Kok, I would make clear the following points. First, it is extremely difficult for the Police to maintain order and ensure the safety of people on the scene in a crowded and chaotic situation. In handling large-scale assemblies and confrontations, the Police's top priority is to avoid deterioration of the situation as quickly as possible, lest casualties may be triggered. Second, on that evening, apart from making arrests, the Police endeavoured to render assistance to those who wished to go away while requiring help for that purpose, as well as those whose personal safety was at stake as considered by the Police, by escorting them out of the scene and taking them to a safe place, without taking into account which side they were on during the confrontation. It is always the Police's responsibility to escort those facing danger to leave the scene. Third, the Police shall definitely follow up, in accordance with the law, any case in which there is evidence for suspected offences. We appeal to members of the public to report to the Police unlawful acts such as indecent assault or assault with violence which are considered to have taken place and provide information for the Police's investigation and follow-up.
I have to reiterate that against such a crowded and chaotic scene in Mong Kok on the day, the police officers tried their best to enforce the law in a manner unbiased to neither side, to maintain order, to protect those on the scene and to separate people with opposing views. The allegations that the Police "did not enforce the law in full effort" and even "set free the assailants" and that the Government "connived at the criminals" etc. are extremely unfair to those police officers who faithfully performed their duties with conviction and toiled on the scene. I would note such allegations with great regret.
Following the incidents on October 3 and 4, police manpower has been stepped up in Mong Kok. Despite the signs of lesser tension in the District in recent days, some "Occupy Central" protesters are resolute to stay. The Police shall keep a close watch on the situation in the District and make appropriate deployment. Again, I appeal to members of the public not to assemble in Mong Kok. I urge all those who are gathering there, irrespective of the side they are for, to leave the scene as soon as possible. Personal safety should come first. Members of the public shall be in gear with the Police by joining effort to avoid confrontations or chaos.
I hereby reiterate that in the recent large-scale protest activities, police officers, on top of their long hours of work, have been subjected to verbal provocations, insults and personal attack from time to time. As at October 13, 30 police officers were injured in the course of operations. In spite of all these, the Police shall continue to discharge their duties professionally, impartially and in a manner unbiased to neither side when tackling the challenges arising from the current protest activities. The SAR Government shall continue to give full support to the Police in maintaining the law and order of Hong Kong with utmost professionalism.
Thank you, President.
Ends/Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Issued at HKT 18:05