Vice Premier Li Keqiang, the man said to be succeeding Premier Wen Jiabao, visited Hong Kong for three days last week. From officiating the opening ceremony of the new government headquarters to breakfast meetings with property tycoons, Li had a packed itinerary. Despite his busy schedule, Li made time to visit two families in Lam Tin. Li was greeted enthusiastically, chatted heartily with everyone and was even gifted a nice painting by a child. The premier-to-be appeared to be down-to-earth and amiable; the Hong Kong public seemed to welcome him. Behind the scenes, however, it was a different story. During the Lam Tin visit, police used force to take away a man living in the same building—simply because he wore a T-shirt with the words “Vindicate June 4” on the back. “I didn’t know that Li Keqiang was coming. But there were so many people cheering and welcoming [someone], I knew that some important figures had come to my residence,” says Wong Kin, who is pictured above wearing the offending T-shirt. “A lot of people were cheering for him. But I want people to know that not everyone would applaud a Chinese leader, when injustice is rampant in China.” So he decided to put on his T-shirt and go down to the lobby with his children. The minute Wong stepped out of the elevator, four men in suits grabbed ahold of him and took him away—even though he wasn’t chanting slogans or holding up any signs. Actually, Wong missed his chance to make a statement in Li’s presence, since Li had already taken the lift up to see the apartment of the family of a civil servant that had been handpicked for his visit. But that fact did not deter the police from dragging Wong 300 meters away from the building he lives. “They didn’t tell me who they were, nor explained the reasons why I had to be taken away. They were grabbing and pulling me. They were bending my wrists, and it felt very painful,” Wong says, showing us his bruises. He was released half an hour later, after Li had left. But the harassment didn’t stop. After a couple of hours, around midnight, the police sent around a press release. It said that Wong was on the wanted list for a traffic offense dating back to 2006. In a press conference last week, police commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung defended the police on the grounds of security. “We have to ensure the security [of Vice Premier Li Keqiang]… If we have to guarantee security, we have to control the security core zone. We absolutely respect citizens’ rights of expression and assembly. But this freedom cannot override the safety of others,” Tsang said. On the other hand, human rights activist Law Yuk-kai doubts the legitimacy of the police’s actions. “This is an act of the police abusing power. I can’t see that there is a law giving the police power to forcefully evict a resident from the public area of his residence, just because of what he wears,” says Law, the director of Human Rights Monitor. “Expression is not the key factor [that determines the police’s action]. If he [Wong] displayed threatening behavior, that would be a different matter. But if the police think that wearing a T-shirt is threatening, it is the police, not the protester, that have a problem.” Political attire is a form of expression that ought to be protected, according to our constitution—and Law finds it disturbing that security is held up as a reason to validate actions that trample on this right. “Have the police amplified the importance of security reasons unlimitedly, and used it to justify themselves in suppressing this very basic right?” Law asks. “If the concern of the police is to protect leaders from political embarrassment, insulate them from protests and defend an authoritarian rule from any criticism, this is not about security.” Police misconduct against protesters is fairly commonplace these days, but Wong’s case is unique in several ways. First, the policemen did not identify themselves when they used force to detain Wong. According to the Police General Orders, an officer in plain-clothes must identify himself and produce his warrant card when dealing with members of the public and exercising his powers, whether he is on or off duty. Therefore, it seems the policemen who took Wong away likely defied their own rules. It is easy to downplay the importance of this case—after all, Wong was not taken to a police station, nor was he charged with any crime. He was not formally arrested. But human rights lawyer Michael Vidler warns against such dismissiveness. “Arrest is a fancy word for a general concept, in which someone is moved against their will from where they are, either to a police station or somewhere else,” Vidler says. Wong was deprived of his rights of expression by the police, who appeared to use force unnecessarily and failed to identify themselves. He was entitled to know the reason why he was taken away. Perhaps most insulting is that he was treated this way on the premises of his home, where one should feel safest. Moreover, the police have publicized Wong’s personal information and in so doing infringed upon his privacy—when he hasn’t even committed a crime. It turns out that Wong was on the wanted list because he forgot to pay a fine for jaywalking that was handed out five years ago. He did not receive a ticket, nor did he know that he was wanted. “It is not necessary for the police to give away such information. If the police need to disclose the information, they have to give all the information. They shouldn’t give the image that Wong is a person who has committed serious crimes,” Law says. Chong Yiu-kwong, who teaches at the Hong Kong Institution of Education, agrees. “When the police took him away, they didn’t explain the crime he committed,” Chong says. “Then why did they check his identity card? It’s just like the mainland. The police search information about this person, and check to see whether he has done something wrong before. If he did, they make him sound bad and the public isn’t so sympathetic to him.” Wong has already filed a case to the Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO). However, Vidler—who has helped clients with CAPO complaints before—thinks that there is little chance that Wong will get compensation or even an apology. It’s not that Wong has a weak case, but rather the institution’s current status is to favor the police. “CAPO is an organization where the police investigate themselves,” Vidler says. Although CAPO is monitored by the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), IPCC suffers from its own limits. “IPCC doesn’t have any power to force them to do it. And IPCC doesn’t have its own investigators, so they are reliant on the quality of investigations [by CAPO]. Of course, when [the complaint is] against the police, they don’t always have the same incentives to do the investigations properly,” Vidler explains. “I didn’t think that the situation was that bad before, but [now I know] the white terror [forceful suppression of government opposition and free expression] is so palpable in Hong Kong, after what I experienced,” Wong says. No matter what fears are stemming from Beijing, freedom of expression is enshrined in the Basic Law, and it is most cherished by Hongkongers. It is intolerable that police, and by association the government, is attempting to mask a violation to our basic rights by invoking reasons of security. When the police is given the power to use force, some checks and balances are necessary. And if we don’t guard against the possibility of future breaches, perhaps one day we won’t see anyone don T-shirts with political messages, let alone protest or voice opposition in what is supposed to be a free society—at least until 2047.