Pepper-sprayed protesters say police used 'unreasonable' force

Marchers accuse police of attacking them, but security chief insists officers were reacting to a 'dangerous situation' during protest

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 5:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 May, 2014, 10:02am

Opponents of "white elephant" infrastructure projects yesterday accused police of attacking them and misusing pepper spray during their protest on Sunday.

Organisers alleged that the hood of one protester's raincoat was pulled open by one officer while another sprayed him. Radical lawmaker "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung said officers held both his hands while he was sprayed in the face four times.

"How is such behaviour reasonable?" asked Chan Man-wai, a member of youth social movement Age of Resistance, one of the march organisers.

Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said the spray was only used when a dangerous situation developed on a footbridge at Harcourt Road in Admiralty. However, protesters questioned whether police had followed guidelines on the use of pepper spray, which they say stipulate officers must be under "imminent threat" and be at least 61cm away from their target.

Lai said yesterday that the police handling of the situation was based on the judgment of officers at the scene.

"The situation was very dangerous at the time," he said. "Some of [the protesters] ran out onto the road, occupying the road. Some police officers were splashed with unidentified liquid, and I heard one policeman was hit by a drumstick."

About 170 people joined the march from Chater Gardens in Central to government headquarters in Admiralty, urging the government to scrap a series of expensive projects the demonstrators said served no purpose. They included the troubled high-speed rail link to Guangzhou, the Liantang border crossing and plans for new towns in the northeastern New Territories.

Problems began when it was found that one of the props the protesters were using - a replica hut, representing the village homes that will be lost in the New Territories developments - would not fit on the footbridge.

The protesters wanted to continue along Gloucester Road but police refused to allow them, as march organisers had agreed to use the footbridge when the protest was approved. After two hours of scuffles, eight protesters were allowed to carry the prop along Gloucester Road.

Chan said the issue of the large prop had been raised when the organisers applied to stage the protest, but police had said the group should have no problem using the footbridge.

Leung questioned why the Confederation of Trade Unions had been allowed to use Gloucester Road for its Labour Day protest on Thursday while they were not.

He planned to make a complaint against the police, but also expected to be arrested, meaning his complaint will not be handled until after court proceedings.

The government is expected to table a preliminary request for funding for the New Territories new towns to the Legislative Council's Finance Committee on May 16. Leung said he would file 700 amendments in a filibuster attempt.

The HK$120 billion scheme will create 60,000 homes but will displace several villages.