Following is a reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Lai Tung-kwok, to an urgent question by Dr Hon Kwok Ka-ki under Rule 24(4) of the Rules of Procedure in the Legislative Council today (October 15):
Prior to firing tear gas to disperse the participants of the assembly in areas around Admiralty on the 28th of last month, the Police displayed to them a number of times warning banners printed with the wording of ˇ§Warning tear gasˇ¨ on one side and ˇ§Disperse or we fireˇ¨ on the other side. The Chief Superintendent of the Police Public Relations Branch explained at a press conference held on September 30 that the wrong side of the banner might have been displayed possibly due to the chaotic situation at the scene, and that the Police had no intention to fire on the crowd. However, a number of photographs showed that the Police had displayed several banners of this type to the assembly participants, with both sides of the banners facing the participants. Given that the assembly is still going on, will the Government inform this Council whether the Police have immediately reviewed their mechanism for displaying various types of warning banners to protesters, including the rank(s) of the officers who decide what type of banners are to be displayed, the decision-making procedure, and whether the Police should cease using various types of warning banners with two sides printed with different wording when handling the aforesaid assembly in future, so as to avoid causing public panic again due to the conveyance of wrong messages; if they have reviewed, of the outcome; if not, whether they will conduct such a review immediately?
My reply to Dr Hon Kwok Ka-ki's question is as follows:
When handling public order events, the Police shall take resolute measures against participants' illegal acts like violent charging or disorderly conduct for the purposes of public order and public safety. There are strict Police guidelines for the use of force. Field commanders shall make a professional assessment in the light of the actual circumstances and operations at the material time for operational deployment, including whether force shall be used and, if yes, what type of force is to be used. Before using force, they shall as far as possible ensure that warnings have been issued, and the persons involved are given the opportunity to obey Police instructions. In alerting the participants of their warnings, the Police are equipped with warning flags, in addition to making verbal warnings. Police officers shall, in the light of the actual circumstances, display such flags to the participants. It is shown on some warning flags that force may be used.
At the unlawful assembly along Admiralty on September 28, some of the protesters, against the Police's repeated appeals and warnings made through loudspeakers, seized the mills barriers and assaulted the police officers with umbrellas and by throwing water bottles at them on a number of occasions. They wilfully attempted to break through the Police cordon in an organised manner, seriously jeopardising public safety and public order. Such intense charging acts also put the personal safety of the frontline police officers and people gathered seriously at stake. In case rows upon rows of radical protesters standing at the front broke through the Police cordon, swarms of people would rush forward, which would probably result in a "trampling" tragedy arising from a stampede where people were pushed over or fell down. The consequences could be dire. Upon assessing the prevailing circumstances, the field commander made a professional judgment and decided to use appropriate force, including the use of tear gas.
Prior to the use of force, the Police had, on many occasions, warned the people gathered to stop their charging acts. Before using the tear gas, repeated warnings had also been given to protesters charging the Police cordon by displaying warning flags with the sign "WARNINGˇ@TEARˇ@SMOKE" to indicate the level of force that might soon be used. The concerned warning flags used on that day were double-sided; the side facing protesters charging the Police cordon was black with the words ˇ§WARNINGˇ@TEARˇ@SMOKEˇ¨, whereas the side facing away from protesters charging at the Police was orange with the words "DISPERSE OR WE FIRE". The police officers holding up the flag were surrounded by crowds of people from all sides amidst the extreme chaos on the scene. It was in fact the Police's intention to display the side showing "WARNINGˇ@TEARˇ@SMOKE" to protesters charging the Police cordon. In their clarification on the same day, the Police emphasised that they absolutely had no intention to use arms to fire bullets.
The double-sided warning flags have been in use for decades. The Police will conduct a review and consider taking improvement measures to meet different operational commitments.
Thank you, President.
Ends/Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Issued at HKT 18:20