• Sun
  • Aug 17, 2014
  • Updated: 11:41pm
Column
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 July, 2014, 5:02pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 July, 2014, 2:06am

Hong Kong police's harassment of protesters tarnishes good name of Asia's 'finest'

Albert Cheng denounces officers' rough handling and the mass arrest of demonstrators following the overnight sit-in after July 1 rally

BIO

Ir. Albert Cheng is the founder of Digital Broadcasting Corporation Hong Kong Limited, a current affairs commentator and columnist. He was formerly a direct elected Hong Kong SAR Legislative Councillor. Mr Cheng was voted by Time Magazine in 1997 as one of "the 25 most influential people in new Hong Kong" and selected by Business Week in 1998 as one of "the 50 stars of Asia".  
 

The Hong Kong Police Force has been hailed as Asia's finest. But does it still warrant the title, given the heavy-handed way in which it recently dealt with peaceful protesters?

The force did not earn its reputation overnight. The British colonial administration drew a lesson from the bitter experience of the 1967 riots, and made painful efforts to clean up the police's corrupt image.

These efforts culminated in the establishment of the Independent Commission Against Corruption in 1974. A partial amnesty was granted to officers suspected of corruption in 1977. Meanwhile, officers were given relatively generous remuneration packages so they no longer had an excuse to take bribes.

Since then, the force has transformed itself into a trusted, efficient and professional law enforcement agency.

Political neutrality is another major reason our police have been held in high esteem, both locally and internationally.

In 2012, CNN Travel named Hong Kong as the greatest city in the world. One of the 50 reasons cited was the liberal environment in which people were allowed to "vote with their feet" for any conceivable cause. "Compared to reactionary neighbours like Singapore and mainland China," it said, "Hong Kong is ripe for civil disobedience."

We have seen up to half a million residents marching on the streets without incident. It is not uncommon for demonstrators to chat with smiling officers there to facilitate the rallies.

However, police actions in the past few weeks have nullified much of its achievements over the years.

A total of 511 people were arrested for unlawful assembly and preventing police from carrying out their duties after the unauthorised overnight sit-in in Central following the annual rally on July 1.

About 490 of those arrested were set free after receiving a warning letter. It would seem that the purpose of the operation was to harass the protesters.

Organisers estimated that 510,000 people took part in the rally to push for their right to nominate candidates for the chief executive election in 2017.

The international media was peppered with photos of officers manhandling protesters. Some of those arrested complained of a lack of basic provisions while they were detained at the police college in Wong Chuk Hang. Their legal support teams waiting outside the makeshift detention centre were denied access to their clients for hours.

The police's decision to arrest five organisers of the July 1 rally also raised a lot of eyebrows. Among them was the driver of the lorry which led the march. He was accused of driving too slowly and leaving the vehicle with an idling engine.

Journalists' groups have also objected to police attempts to separate reporters from protesters. In one case, officers formed a human wall to block cameramen from filming how the demonstrators were to be removed. The police said later it was done to ensure reporters' safety.

This change in the police approach to peaceful demonstrations obviously comes from the top echelons of government.

Instead of guarding their political neutrality, the Junior Police Officers' Association issued a provocative letter to its 20,000-odd members last Sunday.

The statement quoted a term that is used on the mainland, which is roughly translated as "provoking quarrels and making trouble". The association also lashed out at unnamed members of the Legislative Council and the Independent Police Complaints Council for accusing officers of abusing their power.

Despite the association's self-righteousness, the latest survey data tells a different story. A recent opinion poll conducted by the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme pointed to a growing negative public perception of the police. The police department is ranked the lowest among five major disciplined services.

The force recorded a net satisfaction rating of 36 percentage points, the lowest level since the handover.

Despite this, the Leung Chun-ying administration and the police leadership have remained hawkish as the pro-establishment machine churned out heaps of propaganda praising the police. Leung dismissed the popular rally as "a waste of police resources".

There are worrying signs that the authorities are trying to brand the democracy protesters as public enemy No 1.

The late US attorney general Robert Kennedy once said that "every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on."

If we don't shout out now and demand that our police force stays politically neutral, the community may end up with law enforcement that no one deserves.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. taipan@albertcheng.hk

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This article is now closed to comments

bill8575_1998@yahoo.com
Forced removal was unnecessary when protesters were simply sitting hand-locked peaceful but resolved. Force was unnecessary when the police were told that protesters would leave at 8 a.m. Force was unnecessary when protesters caused no disturbance to public, traffic, nor excessive noise was made. Force was specially unnecessary when the police wanted to serve as warning to prospective Central Occupiers.
whymak
To readers who commented below:
Like you, I am on and off flummoxed by SCMP retaining Mr. Cheng's weekly column for no other reason than a commercial motive. I admit his abrasive style in a radio show pandering to the lowest common denominator had some "entertainment" values. Yet as a "writer" who offers none other than du jour populism, he often debases rational discourse in Op-ed pages with juvenile political naivete like a Scholarism brat. Perhaps, this is what some in SCMP believe to be its genuine "fair and balanced" editorial stance.
Too bad you don't have a glimpse of the language deficiency in his original submissions before they were heavily redacted. A total rewrite of incoherent rants is the more correct description for most of Mr. Cheng's diatribes.
53919dad-e488-45a8-a2e5-0bca0a320969
"The late US attorney general Robert Kennedy once said that "every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves."
HK gets you.
mercedes2233
Stop running down the HK Police. They do a great job and are the most polite in the world. You yourself said "A total of 511 people were arrested for unlawful assembly and preventing police from carrying out their duties after the unauthorised overnight sit-in in Central following the annual rally on July 1." The arrests certainly seem legitimate, and we don't see the level of brutality we see on TV sets of police action in other countries. If you have to criticize somebody, why don't you condemn the behaviour of the crowds in not disbursing after the multiple announcements by police? Were they asking for and provoking the showdown? Why don't you stay neutral and see the event for what it is?
raymondspchu
Albert Cheng, stop ****ting! HK Police are doing a fine job.
DinGao
Once the PH/weekend Central pedestrian zone timeframe ended, the protesters had no right to block the roads.
The police thus had no option but to remove them using minimum force.
The proper place for Occupy is the protest zone at LegCo and the government should accelarate all measures to reopen it.
pliu
Albert, the police are doing a good job under difficult circumstances. They handled the protests well and professionally. It's the young activists that are to blame for breaking the law in the 1st July protests . Just look at the verbal abuse and violence hurled at the police in the new towns protests. It was an absolute disgrace! If there is any harassment then it's by the young student radicals and not the police!
anthonygmail
So will Albert care to comment on nature of his anti-establishment pals who hurl verbal and physical abuse at the police?
JC
Mr Cheng .. the CNN Travel write-up was not exclusive to HK. Other major cities in the region, including Singapore also had similar write-ups. Essentially, 50 reasons why the LOCALs in each city think their hometown is the greatest in the world. So please check your facts. Above all, does it matter what CNN TRAVEL says? I am sure Hong Kong people have their own minds. They may be able to vote with their feet (and many did in the 80s and 90s, they fled to Canada, Australia, the US, the UK, and even Singapore), but can they vote out the government like in "reactionary" Singapore? CNN Travel? Please!
chuchu59
I don't see the need to bring back nostalgia ie the riots of 1967 and the corruption-prone police of the 50s and 60s. It does not seem to have anything to do with the Police handling of the protestors. Now while there could be better ways to enforce law and order it is not possible to treat the protestors with kid gloves otherwise nothing can ever be accomplished. The Police, as I personally see it, used the minimum force necessary. There may be incidents that render the police as not being conceived to be politically neutral but then they are only taking orders.

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