Following is a written reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Lai Tung-kwok, to a question by Hon Cyd Ho in the Legislative Council today (October 22):
During the period from the 28th of last month to the early morning of the following day, the Police used tear gas and pepper spray against protesters for a number of times at several places on Harcourt Road and Connaught Road Central in Central and Tim Mei Avenue in Admiralty, etc. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) during the period from noon on the 28th of last month when the Police declared the assembly at Tim Mei Avenue unlawful to the time when tear gas was first fired, whether and how the Chief Executive (CE), the Chief Secretary for Administration (CS), the Secretary for Security and the Commissioner of Police (CP) participated in the decision-making process regarding the handling of the assembly; from the time when tear gas was first fired by the Police to 12 o'clock at noon of the following day, whether the aforesaid officials continued to participate and how they participated in the decision-making process regarding the handling of the assembly;
(2) of the models of the 87 canisters of tear gas fired by the Police, and the time and locations at, and the means (shooting or throwing) by which they were fired, together with a map clearly showing the locations and time at which they were fired; the total number of canisters of pepper spray used by the Police during the aforesaid period, with a breakdown by model and canister size;
(3) as some witnesses claimed that the Police had continuously fired tear gas at the protesters at the section of Connaught Road Central outside the former Legislative Council Building but there were only about 20 protesters there at that time, of the reason why the Police needed to use tear gas;
(4) of the name and rank of the official who decided to fire tear gas; if the rank of the official is lower than that of CP, whether the official sought prior instructions from the latter and/or any official of a higher rank; if he did not, whether the principal officials participated in the decision-making process during the period from the time when the Police first fired tear gas to the early morning of the following day; if they did, of the specific time;
(5) as an Assistant Commissioner of Police said at the press conference on the 29th of last month that the firing of tear gas was decided by the commander at the scene, and CS told the media that CE was aware of and consent to the decisions made by the government departments concerned in the light of the situations arising from the Occupy Central movement, when CE became aware of, and gave consent to, the Police's deployment for handling the protests, and what the decision-making process on the 28th of last month was; and
(6) whether government officials had any form of communications (including giving notification or seeking instructions) with the officials of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region about the handling of the aforesaid assembly?
Hong Kong residents enjoy the freedom of and the right to peaceful assembly, procession and demonstration under the Basic Law. However, in exercising such rights, they shall not wilfully disrupt public order or act in defiance of the law. In 2005, the Court of Final Appeal (CFA) pointed out in a case involving the freedom of demonstration that the right to assembly, procession and demonstration was not unrestricted in that, for instance, if the assembly concerned caused unreasonable obstruction to the free passage along a public road, i.e. exceeding what the public can reasonably be expected to tolerate, then the protection for the assembly concerned under the Basic Law would be lost. In another case heard by the CFA in 2012, a permanent judge also pointed out that an act could be properly regarded as "disorderly" when it went well beyond what any citizen would have to tolerate.
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 major 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 consolidated reply to Hon Cyd Ho's question is as follows:
Subsequent to the launch of the "Occupy Central" as announced by its founders in the early hours of September 28, a large number of radicals with different backgrounds joined the student-led assembly. On the afternoon of the same day, against the Police's appeals and warnings, a swarm of radical protesters standing in front of the Police cordon line on Harcourt Road, on a number of occasions, deliberately charged the cordon line and seized the mills barriers in an organised manner, assaulting police officers with umbrellas and water bottles. They deliberately, incessantly and violently, yet in an organised manner, charged the Police cordon line. Such behaviour put public safety and public order seriously at stake. By means of loudspeakers and the display of warning banners, the Police had repeatedly advised participants of the unlawful assembly to leave as soon as possible, and had given warnings that the Police would use force if they did not cease their charging acts.
However, the Police cordon line continued to be under serious charging. Given that their advice and warnings were in vain, the Police used Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) foam to stop the protesters' violent acts in a bid to minimise the chance of injuries to people on the scene. But the crowd kept growing at the time and the Police cordon line was incessantly charged. The scene became very chaotic as protesters, who were large in number, continued to gather and launched violent charging despite the Police's 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 from OC foam so that they could continue charging the Police cordon line.
In view of the failure to achieve the effect of counteracting the charging of the crowd by the use of OC foam as well as radical protesters' deliberate and incessant acts to crush their way forward, the Police, in preventing the situation from getting further out of control which would lead to more serious casualties, had no alternative but to use tear gas to put an immediate halt to the violent charging staged by the protesters, to create a safe distance from the protesters and to stop any acts that might threaten public safety and public order. We are in support of the Police's professional judgment and the measures taken by them to protect public safety and public order.
In handling the rally from the afternoon of September 28 to the early hours of September 29, 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. The commander is in no way required to seek supervisors' approval on such a decision.
When handling the rally on the day in question, the Police discharged tear gas in the areas of Admiralty, Wan Chai and Central to put a halt to the protesters' violent charging acts and create a safe distance from the protesters, and to stop any acts that might threaten public order and public safety. The models of tear gas used by the Police are not to be disclosed, as they were a matter of operational deployment and particulars. Furthermore, given that the unlawful assemblies in relation to "Occupy Central" are still on-going, the figure on the use of OC foam is subject to verification.
As regards the incident on that day, senior officials of the SAR Government, including the Chief Executive, the Chief Secretary for Administration 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 public order. We consider that the Police were restrained in dealing with the case and that the force they used was minimum, having taken into account the prevailing circumstances and needs. The operation conducted on the day, being an issue related to the protection of public order and public safety by the Police, was entirely within the jurisdiction of the SAR Government.
Ends/Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Issued at HKT 14:53