Li Keqiang

Officers protecting Li Keqiang told to 'pre-empt embarrassment'

The wording of orders to frontline officers protecting the vice-premier was confusing and should be avoided, a watchdog report says

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 December, 2012, 3:54am

Frontline police officers responsible for security when Vice-Premier Li Keqiang visited Hong Kong in August last year were given orders to "pre-empt embarrassment" to Li, a report by the police watchdog revealed yesterday.

The orders also told officers to ensure events attended by Li be conducted in a "smooth and dignified manner", apart from protecting his personal safety.

The Independent Police Complaints Council, which published its final report on 16 complaint cases it received about the heavy-handed security, said the wording was confusing and should be avoided. Police say frontline officers received no verbal briefings owing to time constraints.

Twelve officers will be punished for their failings.

Lawmaker James To Kun-sun, vice-chairman of the Legislative Council's security panel, said such wording was the "soul" of the tough security arrangements. "The police's duty is to protect the VIP's safety, not to prevent the VIP from feeling unhappy," he said.

He criticised the police for revealing only "extracts" of operational orders for council. "If the whole thing is revealed, more problems can be found," he said.

But council chairman Jat Sew-tong SC refused to speculate if the words were the core of the problem. He said no political interference was found in the security arrangements. "Words which would potentially create uncertainty and confusion to frontline officers should not find their way in relevant operational orders."

The complaints involved 40 allegations, 10 of which were substantiated. Two officers who blocked a TV journalist's camcorder during filming of an event attended by Li in Lam Tin face a disciplinary hearing. Four received verbal warnings and six received "advice".

Police Commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung was widely criticised at the time when he said the officers who blocked the camcorder reacted to a "black shadow" moving towards them. The account was dismissed by the council's interim report.

A senior superintendent and chief inspector from the VIP protection unit were among the six to receive advice for failing to present their warrant cards before forcibly removing Wong Kin, who wore a June 4 Tiananmen crackdown T-shirt, when Li visited Laguna City in Lam Tin. Wong said he was disappointed with the findings.

An outstanding complaint on which the police and the council could not reach a consensus was the setting up of a press area, which journalists said was too far away from Li. The council, which questioned if police had legal grounds to set up such an area, would let Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying rule on the complaint. Leung's office said he would consider the advice in the report.

Police said in the report the wording of operational orders had been improved when President Hu Jintao visited Hong Kong this year. But lawmaker To was sceptical, pointing out that an Apple Daily reporter was taken away by police when he asked Hu if he would vindicate the 1989 crackdown.

The report urged police to improve communication between management and frontline officers, and among police, media and the public.

A police spokesman welcomed the report, saying it was a positive learning opportunity.