Hong Kong’s police watchdog has largely exonerated officers for their handling of democracy protests last year and said officers had acted within guidelines. The report by the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) concluded that public anger towards the city’s force was the result of online smear campaigns.
The report also said accusations of brutality against police had become “a weapon of political protest” and cleared the force of any major wrongdoing.
The city’s chief executive Carrie Lam welcomed the “objective” report, but the findings were dismissed by protesters and opposition figures who have long called the watchdog a toothless organisation and have made an independent judge-led inquiry into the police force one of their core demands.
Hong Kong was battered by seven months of democracy protests last year that upended the city’s reputation for stability and left it deeply polarised.
The protests were initially sparked by a now scrapped Bill to allow extraditions to China’s party controlled courts. But they soon snowballed into a popular revolt against Beijing’s rule after years of rising fears that the city’s freedoms were slipping.
Millions attended peaceful marches but violence routinely broke out with masked protesters throwing petrol bombs and rocks against riot police armed with tear gas and rubber bullets. International and local rights groups have accused police of using excessive force while viral videos of officers beating protesters during arrests saturated social media and intensified public anger.
Speaking in front of a backdrop filled with pictures of violent protests alongside the slogan “The Truth About Hong Kong” on Friday afternoon, Lam described the report as “comprehensive, objective, fact-based and very heavy-weighted”.
At the start of the year, she vowed to heal the divisions in the city but her administration has done little in the way of reconciliation.
In the press conference, Lam said the government will speed up prosecutions against more than 8,300 arrested protesters and again rejected a core public demand for an independent inquiry to investigate the police.
“I disagreed and I won’t do it, especially when the nature of the movement has changed after a year… that is to use violence to threaten the government to concede to their demands,” she added.
The IPCC report said police were not to be blamed for the public animosity they faced. “The protests have been driven and continue to be driven by a consistent and continuing message of hatred against the police, repeated particularly on the internet,” the report’s authors wrote. “While labelling police action as ‘brutality’, the protesters seem to disregard their own violence, vandalism and vigilantism,” it added.
Specific allegations of excessive violence used by police officers should be investigated by the police’s own complaints procedure, the report added.
The IPCC was a controversial body even before last year’s protests. Rights groups and critics say it is stacked with former officers and pro-establishment figures, lacks investigative powers and cannot summon witnesses. (Source: Straits Times)