Li Keqiang

Li Keqiang visit stern lesson for police

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 May, 2012, 12:00am

The visit by Vice-Premier Li Keqiang to Hong Kong last year was a public relations disaster for the police. It has brought down the vice-chancellor of the University of Hong Kong, Tsui Lap-Chee, and its registrar, Henry Wai Wing-kun, because of heavy-handed security against protesters while Li was on campus.

Now the Independent Police Complaints Council has criticised two police officers from the force's VIP protection unit for interfering with the work of a news cameraman. The officers face a disciplinary hearing and serious punishment. The council had asked officers up to the rank of senior superintendent to justify their security decisions for the August visit while investigating 16 complaints that covered 40 allegations of police wrongdoing. It has endorsed the Complaints Against Police Office's findings on nine of the complaints and ordered further probes in six. It plans to interview more senior officers and is demanding internal documents on security arrangements and operational commands for the visit. It did not rule out holding more officers accountable.

The picture that has emerged is one of unjustified and unnecessary heavy-handed police security. The buck should stop with police chief Andy Tsang Wai-hung, though so far he has escaped official criticism. The council's findings have rightly brought scorn on Tsang, who had earlier defended the two officers by implausibly claiming they were reacting to 'a black shadow' when they blocked the lens of a Now TV cameraman with their hands.

Police must learn a lesson from this mess. Excessive security will not impress state leaders and only antagonises the public. Officers in the field are being put in impossible situations, having to carry out their duty while undermining the rights and well-being of the people.

As protests have become part of local culture, police must respond with greater professionalism, not greater force. It is up to senior officers to devise appropriate security without inconveniencing and offending the public - or interfering with the work of journalists and the right of protesters to express their views.