Since June 2019, people in Hong Kong rallied in massive numbers in opposition to the proposed extradition bill. Protests were met with intense crackdown, accompanied by widespread reports of police abuse and misconducts.
Calls for an independent inquiry into the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) were repeatedly ignored or denied by the Carrie Lam government. In response to this, in July 2019, a group of citizens launched an effort to assemble publicly available information and conduct an independent investigation into the HKPF’s actions.
The investigation report consists of 7 chapters, with chapters 3 to 6 making up the core of the report. Chapter 3 outlines the legal authority of the HKPF, explaining the expected behavior of the police when performing their duties. Chapter 4 describes the current complaint mechanism of the HKPF, and attempts to analyze its deficiencies and possible grey areas. Chapter 5 provides a compilation of evidence of suspected abuse of power of the HKPF since June 2019. Chapter 6 concludes the report with our recommendations.
- The HKPF has access to massive manpower and financial resources, and wields considerable executive power. The purported objectives and values of the HKPF are written down in the open, but when it comes down to handling actual mass events, the actions of the police leave a lot to be desired.
- Even though the Basic Law grants Hong Kong residents the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, the HKPF could impose undue restrictions using their statutory powers. Since police officers enjoy extensive statutory powers while performing their duties, it is not hard to conclude that when police officers are suspected of abusing their powers or breaching the law while on duty, there would hardly be any accessible channel for citizens to seek redress under existing law. The problem would only be aggravated if the HKPF and high-ranking officials continue to ignore the issue or even commend the police for their transgressions.
- Issues in the existing complaint mechanism:
- The Complaints Against Police Office (“CAPO”) is not independent of the HKPF. Many citizens find it difficult to trust a system that leaves the investigation of complaints of police abuse in the hands of police officers themselves.
- The Independent Police Complaint Council (“IPCC”) lacks the statutory power to summon witnesses for cross-examination and has an unsatisfactory track record in investigating large-scale events.
- The Office of The Ombudsman does not have the right to investigate police misconduct.
- Complaints filed to the Civil Service Bureau concerning police officers are generally referred back to the CAPO; the success rate of complaints against the civil servants concerned is extremely low.
- The current trust crisis makes it difficult for citizens to believe that the police officers breaching the law would receive appropriate punishment.
- As shown in the video footages gathered from online sources, the HKPF seems to be repeatedly breaching Police General Orders (PGOs) and other laws throughout the movement. We have found cases where the police are suspected to be involved in physical abuse (possibly constituting an offence under the Offences against the Person Ordinance), refusal to show the Police Warrant Card while performing their duties, obstruction of the press, etc. The videos we have seen suggest that the transgressions were not merely caused by negligence, but rather by deliberate actions by some members of the HKPF. The situation deteriorated as the conflicts escalated. This indicates an alarming absence in the checks and balances over police authority. The rule of law would be seriously undermined should the situation continue to worsen, and may lead to disastrous consequences.
- Some of the video footage circulated on the internet is incomplete and is not necessarily admissible evidence in court. Also, due to constraints in time and resources, the authenticity of each video footage could not be verified individually, and as such may not necessarily present the whole truth. However, from the increasing trend of the number of video clips we have collected and the suspected abuse of power by the HKPF reflected in those clips, we have reason to believe that what this report reveals is only the tip of an iceberg.
- In view of the current situation, merely establishing an independent investigation committee would no longer be able to satisfy all the demands of the public.
- A thorough reform of the Police Force from within is the only way to regain public trust.
- Any department monitoring the police must be reformed to exist independently of the HKPF, and must be granted with sufficient regulatory powers to thoroughly investigate suspected police transgressions.
- The government turned a blind eye to the misconduct and dereliction of duties of the police, and refused to carry out a fair and just investigation, which is an abscondment of its duty to uphold the rule of law. The crux of the matter lies with the political system, and, therefore, all of the “Five Demands” must be met.
Appendix 1 (Evidence)
(Please also refer to Chapter 5 of the report for a summary of the evidence laid out here)
Photo and video evidence of suspected contravention of regulations against the Hong Kong Police Force when discharging duties:
When work to compile this report began in July, Hong Kong had just witnessed a horrific terrorist attack. An organized gang in white T-shirts, most of them carrying offensive weapons, assembled at the Yuen Long MTR station and carried out indiscriminate attacks on innocent passengers and journalists. Amid the mayhem, civilians, regardless of their age and gender, desperately tried to escape the barrage of fists and canes. Some of them were mobbed and beaten up, faces covered in blood, while some others were rendered unconscious. Their pleas for help, however, fell on deaf ears. Two uniformed police officers appeared at the scene only to leave immediately after. Emergency calls made to the “999” emergency hotline by thousands of citizens to report the incident went unanswered. At one point, the Yuen Long police station even pulled down its shutters to block concerned citizens from seeking help. The police eventually showed up, but by then all attackers already left the scene.
The Yuen Long Terrorist Attack (July 21 Incident) spurred rumors of collusion between the Hong Kong Police Force (“HKPF”) and local triad gangs. On the same day, the Chief Executive (“CE”) Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and several high-ranking government officials held a press conference condemning the vandalization of the national emblem on the building of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in Hong Kong. The personal safety and security of Hong Kong citizens were the least of their concerns, and they paid scant attention to the legal responsibilities and abuse of power of the HKPF. None of the questions raised by the press was directly addressed. Daily press conferences held by the HKPF evaded questions from the media regarding such issues, which further fuelled anger among citizens.
In the past, Hong Kong used to be seen as the world’s premier financial hub. Its success was due in no small part to its well-established legal system independent from mainland China and various civil liberties enjoyed by the region, including the freedom of speech and freedom of the press. To those who are familiar with Hong Kong, the scene at Yuen Long MTR station would seem astoundingly surreal and beyond belief. When we first started working on this report in early July, we merely intended to make an objective analysis of the law enforcement situation by the HKPF and the regulatory framework in place. No one could have anticipated that the situation would deteriorate so rapidly: the July 21 Incident, the August 31 Incident, undercover police participating in the protests in order to arrest protesters and first-aiders, reports of torture of detainees at the San Uk Ling Holding Center (accused of being a “concentration camp” where extrajudicial punishments were carried out) and visits from lawyers and Justices of the Peace were denied. We are gravely concerned not only about the abuses of power by the HKPF that run contrary to the expectations of the Hong Kong people, but also whether the existing checks and balances are sufficient to regulate the behavior of the HKPF, and whether the Department of Justice is conducting prosecutions in a fair and unbiased manner. Clearly, the core of the problem is not merely misconduct of individual HKPF officers, but rather the unprecedented governance crisis caused by the erosion of the rule of law.
Even after countless rallies and conflicts, the government reluctantly withdrew the extradition bill, but remained deaf to all the other demands of the Hong Kong people. Calls for an independent inquiry into the HKPF were repeatedly ignored or denied. In response to this, we started this effort to gather publicly available information on suspected police abuses, explain the existing law on policing and how they are suspected to be violated, and the current supervisory framework. Although we lack the legal power to summon witnesses, we tried to base everything in this report on objective evidence. We hope our conclusions would be indisputable to a reasonable reader. In the end, we do not know how much impact this report could bring, but we hope every bit of effort would be of assistance to Hong Kong.
23 July 2019
(Amended in September to reflect current status)