Pepper spray row takes new direction

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 April, 2011, 12:00am


Where is the sky? Anywhere above a child's head, according to the latest explanation of the security chief's remarks about where police aimed pepper spray during a March 6 demonstration in which an eight-year-old boy was injured.

In a response made public yesterday, the Security Bureau said that when Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong (pictured) told legislators that officers had aimed their sprays at the sky, he meant 'a height higher than a child'.

The letter from Millie Ng Kiang Mei-nei, the bureau's principal assistant secretary, followed accusations that Lee lied when he made the remark last week in the Legislative Council, with television footage and newspaper photographs showing spray was aimed at the protesters.

In her letter to Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, Ng wrote: 'What the minister wanted to say was that police would not intentionally use pepper spray on children ... aiming 'towards the sky' means aiming to a height higher than children.'

The letter stated that use of pepper spray in the anti-budget protest, in which 113 people were arrested, was aimed at 'deterring violent behaviour of protesters and maintaining public order and safety'.

The rights group, which wrote to Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen calling for police to be made accountable over the use of force, also requested the internal guideline on police use of pepper spray, but the bureau refused to provide it. The group's director, Law Yuk-kai, said the key point was whether police had adhered to the guideline.

'The security chief has simply tried to exonerate police from any responsibility on the use of pepper spray,' Law said.

Lawmaker 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung said the letter indicated that pepper spray was aimed at adult protesters. 'Lee's explanation is a sophistry,' he said.

Elsa Ko, mother of the boy injured by the spray, said: 'This explanation is a lie after the previous lie.'

Icarus Wong Ho-yin, convenor of the Civil Human Rights Front's monitoring group on police power, said the letter showed Lee was patching up a lie. 'He owes a public apology to those injured by the pepper spray and to the protesters,' he said.

'The police chief made a high-profile response saying the police operation on March 6 was a correct one with enough warnings... to pre-empt a possible investigation by the police watchdog.'

Eric Cheung Tat-ming of the Independent Police Complaints Council said the watchdog was having difficulty investigating the March 6 clash as no complaint had been received. 'But we will examine the force's policies on the use of force at protests and how warnings are given,' he said.

A special Legislative Council meeting will be held on April 8 to discuss police handling of public assemblies. 'The security chief must attend this meeting to give the public an explanation of his remarks, of which the latest one, in my view, is a nonsense,' Legco security panel chairman James To Kun-sun said.