Occupy Central

The actions of convicted police officers must be condemned

The overwhelming majority of Hong Kong’s police officers do an excellent job, often in difficult circumstances. While they are entitled to the city’s respect and gratitude, the highest standards of behaviour is expected in return

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 February, 2017, 2:28am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 February, 2017, 2:28am

The assault by police officers on pro-democracy activist Ken Tsang Kin-chiu was one of the most divisive incidents of the Occupy protests. It highlighted the divisions in society between supporters of the demonstrations and the police. The jailing of seven policemen for attacking Tsang after his arrest for throwing liquid over officers brings this unhappy affair to an end. He and the officers have been convicted and punished in separate trials.

The outcomes of the trials must be respected. It is disturbing to see a judge subjected to abuse on social media. Lessons need to be learned and divisions healed.The attack on Tsang took place during extraordinary times. Tensions were running high. The use of tear gas by police early in the protests sparked unprecedented public criticism of the force. Police on the front line were under extreme pressure, working long hours and facing abuse.

Tsang’s conduct was described by the magistrate who sentenced him as a grave provocation. But there is no excuse for the beating he was later subjected to. Tsang, with his hands bound, was led to a dark spot where he was pushed to the ground and assaulted for four minutes. He was left with injuries to his face, neck, shoulder, flank, chest and back. There were 15 marks on his body which could have been caused by police batons.

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This was a premeditated, serious and sustained assault. It must be condemned. The police officers have paid a heavy price, a two-year prison sentence – criticised as too heavy by some – and the almost certain loss of their career. Controversial as the sentence may be, quarrelling at this stage serves no purpose. With the officers likely to appeal in any case, let the law take its course. It is not surprising that the officers have received overwhelming support from colleagues. But we trust our police to uphold the law, even in the most stressful of circumstances. Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung, wrote to colleagues expressing sadness at the convictions and promising support for the officers. It is important that police morale is maintained. But he should also have condemned their conduct. The message must be clear: assaults on suspects will not be tolerated.

Hong Kong is one of the world’s safest cities. The overwhelming majority of our police officers do an excellent job, often in difficult circumstances. They are entitled to our respect and gratitude and should not be subjected to provocation. But police officers must understand that in return we expect the highest standards of behaviour. The actions of those seven officers that night fell well short of those standards.