Outrage at two-year prison terms for Hong Kong policemen who beat up political activist
Police commissioner acknowledges frustration among the ranks while supporters plan protest
Hong Kong’s police force was gripped by emotions ranging from dismay to open outrage as a court on Friday jailed seven officers for two years for beating up an activist who had assaulted their colleagues during an Occupy protest more than two years ago.
In a public show of support for his men, Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung faced the media to announce that he had approved a campaign by staff unions to raise money for the jailed officers while they discussed the possibility of an appeal.
“I have a heavy heart and mixed feelings,” he said. “ I can totally understand why my colleagues are disappointed and frustrated.”
The man they were filmed kicking and punching 28 months ago, social worker Ken Tsang Kin-chiu, hailed their punishment as “a minor victory for civil society against police violence”. Tsang is currently appealing his own five-week prison sentence for assault.
District Court judge David Dufton said in passing sentence that there was “no justification” for the “vicious assault” on a “defenceless” Tsang outside a substation in Admiralty on October 15, 2014.
“The defendants have not only brought dishonour to the Hong Kong Police Force they have also damaged Hong Kong’s reputation in the international community, the assault having been widely viewed around the world and reported as front-page news in a number of countries,” he said.
The highly controversial ruling and sentencing has reignited tensions that first exploded during the 79-day civil disobedience movement of 2014, when thousands of protesters occupied major thoroughfares to demand greater democracy.
Dufton had originally slapped a jail term of two years and six months on each officer over their joint conviction for assault occasioning actual bodily harm, which carries a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment.
But he reduced it by six months after considering the circumstances at the time and the great stress that police were under in handling the Occupy moment. He also took into account the officers’ clear records and service to the community, as well as their dismissal from the force and likelihood of losing their pensions.
The seven are: Chief Inspector Wong Cho-shing, 50; Senior Inspector Lau Cheuk-ngai, 31; Detective Sergeant Pak Wing-bun, 43; Constable Lau Hing-pui, 39; and Detective Constables Wong Wai-ho, 38, Chan Siu-tan, 33, and Kwan Ka-ho, 33. They remained expressionless in the dock when the sentence was delivered.
Chan alone was sentenced to one more month on one count of common assault for twice slapping Tsang at a police station, to be served concurrently with the longer jail term.
Pro-democracy activist Lui Yuk-lin broke into applause in the public gallery, shouting “Yay, judge!” But angry supporters began chanting, “appeal, appeal”, while one started wailing so hard that court security offered her a room to calm down.
Joe Chan Cho-kwong, chairman of the Junior Police Officers’ Association, summed up the outrage among frontline officers, calling the sentences shocking and unacceptable.
Innes Tang Tak-shing, chairman of pro-government activist group PolitiHK Social Strategic, vowed to hold a protest on Saturday.
“[The sentence] is so severe that it’s unbelievable,” he said. “They should see how angry we are.”
Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung called for the public to be rational and fair, insisting that such rulings were based solely on evidence and law.