An overseas expert who withdrew from the Hong Kong police watchdog’s investigation of last year’s anti-government unrest has announced a separate report on the unrest, as a group of protesters criticised the official version as “merely trying to justify police action”.
Professor Clifford Stott, who sat on the international expert panel advising the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) before all of its members resigned last year over concerns about its limited powers, posted an excerpt of his report on Twitter on Sunday.
“Now [the] IPCC report is published I am free to utilise its data as well as our own to underpin our scientific analysis of the evolution of the 2019 protest movement in Hong Kong,” wrote Stott, who is British. He said the report was compiled using primary and secondary data including interviews with participants, and would be published on or before June 9 – a year after the protests began, against a piece of extradition legislation which the government has since withdrawn.
The five-member expert panel resigned after proposing the IPCC be given more powers to investigate police conduct, prompting chairman Anthony Neoh to question whether they understood Hong Kong.
Stott’s announcement came as the IPCC’s report on its investigation into the force’s handling of the protests was widely criticised by opposition politicians, human rights groups and others, who renewed calls for an independent commission of inquiry into allegations of police brutality.
The 999-page report, released on Friday, concluded there was no systemic problem within the police, and officers’ use of force was only in response to violence during the protests. It also made 52 recommendations, including a better communication strategy to “restore and rebuild public trust”; a review of the force’s operational command structure; training for officers; clear guidelines on the use of weapons; and a task force to advise on the frequent use of tear gas.
Stott told the Post on Friday that the IPCC report was unlikely to provide a far-reaching basis for changes in policing, while suggesting an independent inquiry with subpoena power should be a basic requirement.
Writing on his blog on Sunday, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung defended the IPCC report, saying: “The criticism shows people with unpure motivations absolutely have to attack the police force, but in reality, the IPCC has carefully and objectively reviewed the truth of the events in detail over the past 10 months.”
Cheung said the city’s residents should not believe the “misleading and one-sided messages” being spread online, and called for a “return to rationality”.
On Sunday, several people who were arrested during a clearance operation in Prince Edward station on August 31 last year also criticised the report for justifying what officers did that night, which they said included using batons and pepper spray on people thought to be protesters, and barring reporters and first-aid workers from entering the facility.
“From the process of information gathering to the wording used in the report, none of that was neutral. Not a single one of us arrested during the protests was interviewed,” said Leung Yiu-ting, one of the three people who spoke at the press conference. Leung said he was detained during the clearance operation in Prince Edward, but released without charge after 48 hours.
The report was written with the presumption the police had not done anything wrong and is merely trying to justify police action
Ben Lam, district councillor
Two others, who did not give their real names, were charged with unlawful assembly with no limit on the prosecution period.
One of them said he had been trapped on the escalator with other people as officers tried to rush down into the station, stepping on his back and head as they went, while other officers hit them with batons and pepper-sprayed them.
“None of this was mentioned in the report, which just glossed over the whole incident,” he said.
The other said he was also trapped near the escalator, and that people around him had not resisted arrest but were beaten and pepper-sprayed anyway. “They treated us like dead objects,” he said.
The three protesters, along with local district councillor Ben Lam Siu-pan, called for an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality and reform of the force and the IPCC. “The report was written with the presumption the police had not done anything wrong and is merely trying to justify police action,” Lam said.
He further called on people who were at the station on August 31 and who had any photos or video to contact him, saying a group of arrested people was planning to launch a civil case against the police.
The IPCC report concluded the police action in Prince Edward was necessary as protesters had been using the MTR to get around, block roads and escape arrest, but also noted that closing the station, subduing people with force and barring reporters caused panic and speculation.
While unfounded rumours surfaced online after the incident that police had killed protesters inside the station, the report concluded it was “well-nigh impossible” to conceal deaths in a public place in Hong Kong.
But it said police had failed to respond quickly enough to the allegations and asked the force to review how to facilitate media reporting in such operations, without undermining the police response.
The Post has contacted the police for comment.
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