LCQ19: The handling of demonstration on June 12
On June 12 of this year, a large-scale demonstration occurred in Admiralty and its vicinity. Some members of the public have complained that police officers regarded members of the public who peacefully participated in the demonstration and reporters as terrorists, and used unnecessary force against them, e.g. shooting bean bag rounds and rubber bullets aiming at the heads of unarmed members of the public and reporters at a close range, and surrounding and beating unresisting members of the public with batons. Moreover, some police officers hurled abuse at reporters who had already identified themselves, and even verbally provoked members of the public in a blatant manner. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the legal basis on which the Commissioner of Police determined that the aforesaid demonstration was a riot in nature, and the procedure followed by him in doing so; whether other senior personnel of the Hong Kong Police Force ("HKPF") or other government officials were involved in making such decision; if so, of the details;
(2) whether the Chief Executive (CE) or other government officials have the statutory power to rescind the decision mentioned in (1); if so, of the details, and whether CE or the relevant officials have considered exercising that power to rescind the decision;
(3) of the highest rank of the persons who ordered or approved the use of tear gas rounds and the shooting of rubber bullets and bean bag rounds by police officers in the aforesaid incident and the basis on which they made such decisions, as well as whether they included CE or any government officials not belonging to HKPF;
(4) whether the Police will remove from frontline posts those police officers against whom complaints were lodged that they had used unnecessary force against reporters and members of the public in the aforesaid demonstration, so as to minimise the unnecessary clashes they may have with members of the public when discharging duties; and
(5) whether the Government will (i) invite the Independent Police Complaints Council to send its personnel to the front line to monitor the Police's law enforcement when handling large-scale demonstrations in future, and (ii) set up a committee in the near future to investigate if the law enforcement actions taken by the police officers in the aforesaid incident were in any way inappropriate?
At around 8am of June 12, a large number of violent protesters in mask and protective gear rushed out to Lung Wo Road, Tim Mei Avenue, Queensway and Harcourt Road in an organised manner, seriously blocking the traffic and disrupting social order. Some people even did threatening and provoking acts. A police vehicle and the cars of some citizens were trapped in the tunnel at Lung Wo Road, warranting the deployment of Police Negotiators to negotiate with the protesters. Police officers and citizens were thus trapped inside the vehicles for nearly eight hours, with their personal freedom seriously impeded. The unlawful disruption of traffic and blockage of roads paralysed the traffic in the vicinity of Lung Wo Road and Harcourt Road. Notwithstanding this, the Police had acted with tolerance.
Around 3pm, the situation began to deteriorate at the Legislative Council (LegCo) Complex. A large group of extremely violent protesters charged police cordon lines with various weapons such as bricks, metal poles, mills barriers, wooden planks, etc. The police cordon line was set up there mainly to protect the LegCo Complex and the people inside. Such violent charging posed not only serious threat to the personal safety of people at the scene (including other citizens, media practitioners and police officers on duty), but also to public safety and public order. In light of the circumstances at the scene, the Police withdrew the cordon line to the demonstration area at the entrance of the LegCo Complex and continued to protect the LegCo Complex and the persons thereat.
After repeated appeals and warnings which were in vain, the field commander, having regard to the actual circumstances at the scene, the overall situation and operational needs, had no choice but decided to use minimum force to disperse the crowd and control the scene in order to prevent public safety and public order from being further endangered, and to protect the safety of others and police officers.
My reply to various parts of the question is as follows:
(1) and (2) The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has never defined the incident that occurred in the vicinity of Admiralty on June 12 as "riot". The Government has explained many times that the Commissioner of Police used the term "riot" to describe the acts of using self-made weapons to attack police officers at the frontline of the LegCo demonstration area in the afternoon of June 12. In fact, the description of an event will not affect subsequent prosecution work. The prosecutorial duties in Hong Kong are discharged by the Department of Justice (DoJ) independently in accordance with the Basic Law, free from interference by anyone. DoJ have all along been making prosecutorial decision of each case based on the evidence, applicable laws and the Prosecution Code. Unless there is sufficient admissible evidence to support a reasonable prospect of conviction, no prosecution should be instigated by DoJ.
(3) The Police have a statutory duty to maintain public safety and public order. When situations such as illegal blockage of roads, paralysation of traffic, unlawful assembly and violent charging of police cordon lines occur, seriously threatening public order and public safety, the Police will, after making risk assessment, take appropriate actions to ensure public safety and public order.
The Police have stringent guidelines in the use of force. Police officers may use minimum force as appropriate only when such an action is necessary and there are no other means to accomplish the lawful duty. Police officers shall, where circumstances permit, give warnings prior to the use of force, and give the person(s) involved every opportunity, whenever practicable, to obey police orders before force is used.
During the operation on June 12, some protesters at the front charged towards the Police cordon line and attacked Police using violence. These actions were dangerous and even fatal, threatening the lives and safety of the people at the scene. In view of the prevailing circumstances, the field commander of the Police decided to use necessary force according to his professional judgement to disperse the crowd and control the situation with the aid of appropriate equipment. During the operation, equipment used by the Police included batons, pepper sprays, tear sprays, bean bag rounds, rubber bullets and tear gases, etc. All these are non-lethal weapons comparable to those used by the enforcement agencies of overseas countries in dealing with similar violent situations.
(4) and (5) There is a well-established two-tier statutory complaints against police mechanism. The first tier of the mechanism is the Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO) of the Police which receives and investigates into complaints. The second tier is the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) which is a statutory body. The two-tier complaint mechanism has been operating effectively under the Independent Police Complaints Council Ordinance (Cap 604) which has a clear legal basis, thereby ensuring that each and every complaint against the Police will be handled in a fair and just manner.
IPCC has decided to conduct a study with regard to the major public order events which took place since June 9 and the corresponding operations of the Police, and will make public its work progress by phase. IPCC will, as far as it is practicable to do so, strive to publish its first phase report regarding the large-scale public order events which took place between June 9 and July 2 within six months. It will submit the report to the Chief Executive and make public the details. IPCC has set up a special task force and opened multiple channels, including an electronic platform and a hotline, to allow stakeholders and the public to provide information, thereby providing full background and basis for the subsequent review of complaints. IPCC has also set up an International Expert Panel. The Expert Panel will provide international experience and advice for IPCC’s study on Police practices and procedures arising from the recent public order events in Hong Kong. The Government attaches great importance to IPCC’s study and will carefully study and follow up the recommendations made in IPCC’s reports.
Besides, CAPO of the Police has set up a designated team to handle the relevant complaints. To ensure that the complaints are handled properly, all members of the team did not participate in relevant operations of the public order events concerned.
As at October 14, CAPO received 813 complaints relating to the public order events concerned.
As regards whether police officers against whom complaints were lodged will be removed from frontline posts, this will depend on the nature and seriousness of the complaints, the investigation result and the operational needs of the Police, etc. The Police will handle such matters in accordance with the established mechanism. As the complaints are currently being followed up by CAPO, Police will not comment on individual cases.
In line with their past practice in handling large-scale operations, the Police will conduct an after-action review. To facilitate IPCC in monitoring the Police's arrangement of procession at the fronline, CAPO has always invited IPCC Members to conduct field study at the demonstration on July 1.
Ends/Wednesday, October 23, 2019
Issued at HKT 18:40
Issued at HKT 18:40