Hong Kong police deny misconduct accusations, including arson and grinning officers

Senior Superintendent Kelvin Kong Wing-cheung said the use of disguise is a “common tactic” in police operations.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Hong Kong's police force denied accusations of misconduct on Monday after coming under fire for several incidents over the weekend, including an officer posing as a protester who fired a live round after being attacked.

Senior Superintendent Kelvin Kong Wing-cheung also rejected claims that undercover officers set fire to the Wan Chai MTR station on Sunday.

"The police would never commit any illegal acts, let alone arson, when we are in disguise," said Kong at the daily press conference. "Disguise is a common tactic used in police investigations and arrests. The main goal here is to arrest radical and violent protesters."

Senior Superintendent Li Kwai-wah, of the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau, said a masked officer posing as a protester aimed his pistol at protesters and fired a warning shot into the air because he felt he was in danger. He said the officer fired the live round on Sunday on Johnston Road near Southorn Playground in Wan Chai.

"Even before he could carry out his duties, he was found out by violent protesters, who punched him then assaulted him with weapons," Li said.

Li did not comment on a video circulating online that appears to show plain-clothes officers getting out of a police vehicle and digging up bricks from the pavement.

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Also on Monday, Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, a Council Front lawmaker, said he planned to take legal action against a policeman who pepper-sprayed him at point-blank range in Causeway Bay on Sunday.

Chu said he had been talking to a uniformed officer about police searches at around 2.15pm. By his account, another officer then approached Chu and sprayed him in the face without warning.

"The police have used disproportionate force," Chu said. "They could see I was not wearing any protective gear. Spraying someone directly in the face will cause damage."

In a letter to Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo Wai-chung, Chu's lawyer requested to know the name, warrant card number and address of the officer who used the spray, claiming that the officer was not wearing any identification.

"Our client intends to issue legal proceedings against the assailant personally for his wrongdoing," the lawyer's letter said.

Superintendent Fang Chi-kin said the police would not reveal internal guidelines on the use of weapons. He insisted, however, that officers had reported the use of all firearms in accordance with department protocols.

Li said an image of a smiling police officer pepper-spraying a photojournalist with a press pass was a misunderstanding. He said the officer was aiming at charging protesters and refused to apologise for hitting the wrong target.

He said: "It was a chaotic situation, and a photo of a grinning officer does not reflect the whole truth without showing what happened before and after."

People Power lawmaker Raymond Chan Chi-chuen said the police should not have sent armed officers into the streets disguised as protesters.

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"When [an officer] is not in uniform, without a warrant card, masked and holding a gun, how will people know if you are a police officer or a violent criminal?" Chan said.

The lawmaker also asked if the police could be held accountable if an officer committed crimes while working undercover as a protester.

"The crimes that the police said were done by rioters, like arson and serious damages, how do we know it was not done by [the police]?" Chan said.

Amnesty International Hong Kong and the Civil Rights Observer sent a joint letter to the police commissioner on Monday calling for a meeting with the force to discuss the use of force during arrests and detentions.

The rights groups, citing their own reports of arbitrary arrests and allegations of torture in police custody, called for an "independent, impartial, effective and prompt investigation".

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.