Police under fire over rise in arrests at rallies

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 August, 2010, 12:00am

The Civil Human Rights Front yesterday criticised police for what it says is an increase in abuses of power in arresting protesters and charging them under a tougher law for scuffling with officers.

Its claim was backed by a Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor study, which found a rise in police prosecuting protesters with the heavier offence under the Offences Against the Person Ordinance since 2007.

The front - an umbrella organisation of community groups - said the police had arrested 38 people during demonstrations in the first seven months of this year. The group was publicising its regular report on alleged abuses of police power.

The arrests included the high-profile detention in March of protesters who demonstrated outside the central government's liaison office in December last year, and arrests made at a series of rallies over issues such as constitutional reform.

The front alleged that, in many cases, those arrested had to wait for an extended period before being told they would not be charged after they were released on bail.

The group also said that those arrested for minor scuffles with police tended to be charged under the tougher Offences Against the Person Ordinance rather than the Police Ordinance.

Activist Icarus Wong Ho-yin said both the Department of Justice, which decides whether to prosecute a case, and the police force, which supplies the department with evidence, were responsible for the rise in cases under the tougher law.

'There appears to be a conspiracy for police to target protesters, sending the message that there is a price to pay for exercising freedom of expression through protests,' he said.

The front's report also documented several alleged abuses of power involving police officers which were reported by the media. Representatives of sex workers also alleged they have been unfairly treated during raids.

The Human Rights Monitor study said the number of protesters who were charged under the tougher ordinance rose from zero before 2005 to 19 in 2007. In 2008, one person was charged under the ordinance, and the number was four last year. But of the 19 people charged in 2007, only six were found guilt by the courts.

The number of charges made under the Police Ordinance in cases un-related to protests has been between 100 and 200 each year since 2003.

'The public has reason to believe that the police and the Department of Justice have been unusually tough when prosecuting protesters, which raises the suspicion of their intention to crack down on events for public expression,' the monitor said.

Xavier Tang Kam-moon, the police force's director of crime and security, said on Wednesday that police decided the ordinance under which people would be charged on a case-by-case basis.

Getting tough

A Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor study has found an increase in the number of demonstrators who have been charged by police with a heavier offence

The number of protesters charged under the Offences Against the Person Ordinance between 2002 and 2009 is: 24

The number charged under the Police Ordinance in the same period is: 3