Hong Kong police chief admits officers sought to arrest wounded protesters in hospital

Stephen Lo Wai-Chung says officers followed procedure and suggest only a few would face riot charges

Hong Kong’s police chief has admitted his officers had sought to arrest wounded demonstrators in hospitals, and acknowledged that only a “minority” had been violent and would face rioting charges.

The police commissioner, Stephen Lo Wai-Chung, said officers had followed procedure when he was asked about reports that police used medical records to search hospitals for protesters.

“Whenever there are people delivered to the emergency ward, there is a responsibility for police to check whether it is an accident, natural sickness, or [if they were] involved in certain crimes,” he said.“The allegation that we are going to hospitals, chasing people to disturb their treatment, I disagree.”

As the city’s crisis entered its second week, protesters kept up pressure on Chief Executive Carrie Lam by re-occupying streets outside the shuttered legislature building and welcoming the city’s most prominent political activist, Joshua Wong, on his release from jail.

Hong Kong was electrified by a record march on Sunday, the third major demonstration in a week. Organisers claimed that nearly 2 million people turned out to oppose an extradition law pushed by Lam, called for her resignation, condemned police brutality against protesters and demanded they drop any rioting charges.

Protesters against a proposed extradition bill, rest near the Legislative Council building in the early morning in Hong Kong
Protesters against the proposed extradition bill rest near the legislative council building in the early morning. Photograph: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

The police commissioner, Stephen Lo Wai-Chung, refused to apologise for police use of teargas, rubber bullets and truncheons, saying their hand was forced when “a minority” turned to violence on Wednesday.

He claimed police use of riot charges for some of those arrested over the showdown, had been misunderstood, however.

“We’re not saying that the public gathering on that day was a riot,” Lo told a late night press conference. “Some protesters used violence, that’s why the situation was a riot. As for other peaceful protesters … they need not worry about the riot crime.”

Of 32 people arrested over the demonstrations so far, only five have been charged with rioting offences, he said. The legal designation of “riot” has been a focus of concerns because it means protesters face heavier sentences.

The response was unlikely to satisfy protesters who marched under slogans including “they are kids, not rioters” and have been emboldened by the government’s unexpected climbdown over the extradition bill.

The crowds on Monday were tiny by comparison to Sunday, but participants remained committed. “This is Hong Kong’s future at stake, it’s really important,” said one 29-year-old protester, who had skipped work to attend. He said his boss knew where he was, but asked not to be named because he feared arrest after roundups including hospital detentions.

The timing of Wong’s release on Monday after serving half of a two-month sentence on a contempt charge was coincidental. He rose to prominence during the 2014 pro-democracy “umbrella movement”, and had been finishing a sentence for his role in those protests when Hong Kongers took to the streets again.

He wasted no time adding his name to the cause. When he arrived at the protest site in the early afternoon, he told reporters he was in the same clothes he wore when he was jailed, not even taking time to return home and wash or change.

“[The protests] showed the spirit and dignity of the Hong Kong people,” Wong said. He urged her to withdraw the controversial law and step down.

Sunday was the largest demonstration in Hong Kong’s history and the potent display of public anger pushed Lam to apologise for her handling of the crisis in a statement, but she did not respond to demonstrators’ key demands.

Many have sworn they will not rest until she goes. “I know this is going to be a serious fight, but I think it is somehow necessary,” said a 22-year-old student who gave his name as Draven.

“We all know that just one protest is not going to have any long-term impact; we have to go further to let the government know what we need.” That includes bringing an end to Lam’s leadership, he said.

China, which handpicked Lam for the job, has stood by her publicly. The foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Monday she had the government’s support. But analysts and opposition politicians said her campaign to force through a much-criticised bill, and her repeated misreading of the public mood as Hong Kong’s people rose up against it, had fatally undermined her authority.

“Her government cannot be an effective government, and will have much, much, much difficulties to carry on,” the Democratic party legislator James To told the government-funded broadcaster RTHK.

The extradition law at the heart of the crisis would allow both residents and visitors to be sent to China for trial in opaque, communist-controlled courts, which many in Hong Kong fear would prove a devastating blow to their economy and society.

The city functions as a regional business and trade hub, protected from China by its judicial “firewall”. Without that protection everyone from dissidents to business tycoons could be at risk; some of the city’s wealthy have reportedly already started moving assets abroad over fears about the new law’s impact.

Additional reporting by Verna Yu


Emma Graham-Harrison in Hong Kong

The GuardianTramp

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