The protests in Hong Kong have been going on for months. Throughout there has been criticism in how the police have handled the situation. But in recent weeks, the use of police force has escalated, including the recent police shooting of an unarmed protestor.
In this piece, we look at the allegations of police misconduct.
Unlawful Use of Force
Police are empowered in the use of force in the execution of their duties. However, these powers come with restraints. Controlling police use of force often has controversy as it is judged on a subjective-objective basis.
In the instance of the Hong Kong protests, Amnesty International has investigated the allegation of unlawful use of force. Amnesty International is a non-governmental organization with a focus on protecting human rights. Their report on the accusations deems certain instances of the Hong Kong police violating, “international human rights laws and standards.”
These violations break down into a few different categories:
Use of Violence
Certain instances and patterns of police violence demonstrate the unlawful use of force. These include attacks against protestors, using baton strikes, where there is no active resistance. As well as the use the force on peaceful and retreating protestors. These instances demonstrate an unnecessary use of force.
Misuse of Tear Gas
Tear gas, known as a “non-lethal weapon,” is not to be taken lightly. Although it is commonly employed in riot control on civilians, it’s international treaties prohibit its use in warfare. Even with proper use, it has real potential for harm. As such, misuse of tear gas is potentially very dangerous.
The Hong Kong police misconduct allegations include a few different types of tear gas misuse.
For one, they have used the weapon indoors. Tear gas is meant only for outdoor use. Indoors, the effects are more concentrated and damaging. In addition to more pronounced effects, the gas does not allow a safe retreat and can cause stampedes.
Potential injury to innocents is another significant concern. The liberal use of tear gas does not seem to account for the innocents in the area. The weapon has a wide area of effect, and careful use is required to avoid inflicting injury on innocent people. In the protests, police are accused of using tear gas with disregard for the effect on innocent civilians.
The police misconduct allegations also extend to using the tear gas canisters as weapons. With tear gas, the weapon is supposed to be the gas. Gas canisters can be launched from specialized firearms, but the canisters themselves aren’t supposed to be aimed directly at people.
In Hong Kong, police are accused of firing them directly at protestors, resulting in burns and blunt force trauma. This misuse of tear gas is dangerous and has resulted in fatalities in other protests in the past.
The unlawful use of force shows a disregard for the safety of the public, while also further escalating the protests.
Mistreatment of Detainees
When you are arrested, you maintain your rights. The allegations of police misconduct in Hong Kong involve the abuse of peoples’ rights and outright assault.
Police Abuse & Torture
While police have the right to a certain amount of force to subdue people, they can’t attack people who are already detained. In Hong Kong, there are multiple allegations of police abuse and torture against detainees and already subdued people. Some detainees are even requiring hospitalization due to the severity of the abuse.
Some of these police actions appear to be retaliatory, such as shining lasers in the eyes of detainees. This appears to be a response to protestors using lasers to confuse police and prevent facial recognition cameras. However, actions also include physical abuse, such as kicking.
As well, there are several allegations of sexual assault and abuse against detained protestors.
Denied Access to Lawyers
Once arrested, you have the right to consultation. However, many protestors are being denied access to lawyers. Accessing their lawyer helps them protect their rights, improve the odds of getting bail release, and prepare their defence.
Lawyers in Hong Kong even took part in their own march against the “political prosecution” of protestors. Their ask is separate from those of the other protests, simply demanding justice, consistency, and accurate record keeping.
Denying Access to Lawmakers
Lawyers aren’t the only ones being denied access to the detainees. The lawmakers have been kept out as well.
Demands to inspect holding centers have been denied. This denial gives rise to significant concern over the condition and treatment of the detainees.
Delaying First-Aid Service
The police are accused of purposefully delaying first-aid responders. Allegations have them obstructing medical treatment for arrested protestors Delaying first-aid creates significant risk, and reduces the efficacy of treatment.
In addition to denying or delaying first-aid responders, there are also allegations of police using false allegations to arrest them.
Failure to Identify
Journalists are reporting instances of police failing to provide identification when requested. This failure, creates a lack of accountability, making it easier for police to get away with misconduct.
As well, police disguised as protestors are facing accusations of failing to identify themselves before using force. Instead of giving people the option to surrender or disperse, police are abusing their powers to use a surprise attack.
Effects of This Style of Policing
The tactics included in these allegations of police misconduct not only violate human rights, they are also causing more problems, leading further away from an eventual resolution. These actions contribute to a climate of fear which escalates violence and aggression.
While we hope that the conflict ultimately comes to a peaceful resolution, the police should be held accountable for their conduct. Their duty is important but requires adherence to the letter and spirit of the laws they are meant to uphold.
For further reading about police misconduct and controversial actions closer to home: