Police used stronger pepper spray, say protesters
Cheung Chi-fai and Simpson Cheung
Protesters believe the pepper spray that police used against them in Wan Chai on Saturday during President Hu Jintao's visit was stronger than their standard-issue version.
Police usually use a smaller hand-held pepper spray canister, but officers were seen using larger canisters with a stronger jet of spray over the weekend in their clash with demonstrators outside the Convention and Exhibition Centre.
The larger canisters had allegedly not been seen in the city since the massive protests at a World Trade Organisation conference seven years ago. Activists described the spray as 'horrible'.
Avery Ng Man-yuen, vice-chairman of the League of Social Democrats who has frequently experienced pepper spray, was at Saturday's protest and said he had never experienced anything like it.
'It is more painful and hotter than the old ones. Just in a second, the spray can hit your whole body and you can't escape or hide from it,' Ng said.
He said lawmaker 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung was hurt when he was sprayed on the lower half of his body on Saturday.
A frontline police officer said the larger canisters were first introduced to the force at the time of the Korean farmers' protest during the WTO ministerial conference in 2005.
'It is not standard equipment and it is normally kept in the police vehicle,' the officer said.
Produced in America by Sabre - which brands itself as a firm that makes grown men cry - Sabre pepper spray is widely used by police departments and correctional institutions and provides the 'maximum stopping power', the supplier said.
The supplier also offers an advanced version of the spray that can be filled with tear gas and ultraviolet marking dye to identify suspects.
One of the sprays under the brand contains up to a 1.33 per cent concentration of major capsaicinoids, a substance that causes pain, irritation, inflammation, coughing, temporary blindness and redness of skin. The conventional canister is thought by some activists to have a concentration of 0.2 per cent. A Chinese-language website says that model of spray could cause temporary blindness for 50 minutes, and difficulties in breathing and coughing for up to 25 minutes.
The spray can also cause a burning feeling on the skin for up to 90 minutes. But according to the supplier, the product does not have long-lasting adverse health effects. The stronger spray comes in a blue 0.454 kilogram canister, with a handle on the top that is operated like a fire extinguisher. The spray has a range of five metres and can be shot about 20 times in total. A police spokesman last night would not disclose the details of the equipment used in operations, but insisted the spray was the same as the standard one.
The concentration of major capsaicinoids in some pepper spray canisters. Hong Kong police usually use a spray with 0.2 per cent