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Occupy Central

Insiders worry as anger at officers’ jailing for Ken Tsang beating spreads through Hong Kong police

Rank and file organise ‘major gathering’ at police social club to discuss appeal and rally support for convicted seven, with top brass urging respect for judges

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 5:42pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 11:00pm

Organised rank-and-file anger in the police force over the jailing of officers who beat up activist Ken Tsang Kin-chiu during 2014’s Occupy protests has spread to the force’s upper echelons, fuelling concern among officers and lawyers that continued disquiet could cause a politicisation of the force and undermine justice in the city.

It is understood serving and retired officers up to and including the rank of assistant commissioner will have a “major gathering” on Wednesday night at the Police Sports and Recreation Club in Kowloon Tong.

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Sources said police chiefs and the government at least tacitly backed the meeting, but officers had been warned “from a very high level” against shouting, waving banners or disrespecting the judiciary.

Condemnation of District Court judge David Dufton’s decision is spreading through the ranks. Sources told the Post that the meeting’s organisers expected an “enormous” turnout, which they hoped would be in the thousands.

Lawyers for the seven jailed officers will outline to the meeting the plan for their appeal, and a football pitch in the venue’s grounds had been earmarked for a seven-minute silence in support of the officers.

Chairman of the Junior Police Officers’ Association Joe Chan Cho-kwong, chairman of the Superintendents Association Kwok Pak-chung and chairman of the Hong Kong Police Inspectors’ Association Lee Jim-on will speak.

The Overseas Inspectors’ Association’s position on the meeting was unknown.

The jailed men – whose careers appear to be over – 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.

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All denied beating Tsang, 41, in a cul-de-sac in Tamar Park, Admiralty, on the night of October 15, 2014, at the height of the pro-democracy protests. But they were found guilty on one joint count of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, with Chan also convicted of common assault.

A TV news crew filmed the attack, which, when aired at the time, sparked outrage.

One senior legal source, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of his position, said even tacit government support for such a gathering could threaten “the fabric of Hong Kong’s system of criminal justice.”

“I can well understand the feelings of the men and women who serve together in the Hong Kong Police Force about what has happened, but this move may actually end up making their job more difficult,” the source said.

“Indeed, however well intentioned it may be, it could ultimately be ill-conceived and could pose a potentially very damaging threat to the fabric of Hong Kong’s system of criminal justice.”

Neither the police, the judiciary nor the government was immediately available for comment on the meeting.

A wave of pro-police, anti-judiciary protests followed Judge Dufton’s decision last week, prompting Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung to caution the public about overzealous attacks on judges and their decisions.

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In the immediate aftermath of last Friday’s sentencing, pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-yiu described the jailed officers as “the magnificent seven” as he railed against their two-year jail terms, saying community service would have been more appropriate.

A day later, Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung declined to condemn the beating and called on the public to “understand” its context.

Watch: Seven officers guilty of beating protester

But one senior officer, with more than 25 years on the force, said: “Yes, solidarity and standing by your fellow officers is a deeply ingrained and understandable culture in any police force. But there are a fair number of officers who think that the seven deserved their convictions and sentences.

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“Also, there is an appeals process in our judicial system so the question is: why the commotion now, rather than letting it run its course? Some also worry that we are seeing the politicisation of the police force.”

The officer added: “There are also worries about the integrity of the free and fair legal system that is a central pillar of the city and helps attract business from overseas.

“However, those with this viewpoint appear to be very much keeping it to themselves and remaining silent except among friends.”