Operational details of new guidelines for police officers faced with verbal insults should be clearly spelt out to protect the rights of Hongkongers, a human rights group says.
Under the rules, which will be rolled out as soon as next month, officers will be instructed to first advise the person insulting officers to stop, followed by a verbal warning. If the person continues, officers can arrest them on the grounds of "disorderly conduct in a public place", or "assaulting, resisting or deliberately obstructing the police in the execution of their lawful duties".
It is understood, however, that the new guidelines are not applicable to public protests and triad gatherings. For the latter, police now can arrest suspects for the more serious charge of "unlawful assembly".
Chong Yiu-kwong, deputy chairman of Human Rights Monitor, hoped the guidelines would clearly specify conditions under which officers can make arrests for insulting police officers.
"It [the guideline] has to demonstrate that it can balance between police powers and [Hongkongers'] constitutional rights to freedom of expression," Chong said. The new guidelines seems to be a "reminder" to frontline officers that they can use such powers, and as a result this may silence people who wish to defend their rights when arguing with officers, he said.
He said there was also a concern that those who join protests of which police are not notified in advance could be arrested under the Summary Offences Ordinance, which has a lower threshold for successful prosecution.
The issue has been in the news since July, when teacher Alpais Lam Wai-sze was videotaped swearing at police.
Joe Chan Cho-kwong, chairman of the Junior Police Officers' Association, said they were briefed about the new guidelines on Tuesday, but no clear explanation was given as to why protests and rallies were excluded.
While his group advocates making insulting police an offence, he believes the guidelines can help clarify what frontline officers can do when insulted.