Police tear gas sparked street chaos, Hong Kong court told in trial of nine Occupy leaders
- Comments by defence lawyers draw rebuttal from senior officer, who described protesters as ‘unpeaceful’ and ‘unreasonable’
- Tense exchange centres on decision to use gas and why superintendent on duty was not consulted over move
Tear gas unleashed by police caused protesters to pour into the streets in the chaos of 2014’s Occupy movement, a Hong Kong court heard on Monday at the trial of leaders behind the civil disobedience campaign.
The suggestion by lawyers representing nine Occupy leaders at West Kowloon Law Courts drew rebuttals from a testifying police superintendent, who called protesters “unpeaceful” and “unreasonable” during a tense court session.
Senior officer Wong Kei-wai slammed the protest theme – called “Occupy Central with Love and Peace” – during his testimony, earning the ire of supporters in the court gallery who showed up to root for the defendants.
Monday’s court drama was kick-started by defence barrister Hectar Pun Hei SC when he cross-examined Wong, who was in charge of an affected area four years ago.
The 79-day movement for greater democracy sparked clashes between police and protesters, bringing parts of the city to a standstill.
“I would like to put it to you that it was the use of excessive force by police on the evening of September 28, which incited people to occupy the public road of Central,” Pun said.
He was referring to 87 rounds of tear gas he said police had fired that day, the first salvo against a sit-in calling for universal suffrage. The Occupy movement was sparked by frustration with what was perceived as Beijing’s restrictive proposals for Hong Kong’s leadership election.
Officers were attempting to disperse crowds at the time.
Wong, who has more than 30 years of police experience, vehemently denied Pun’s version of events in the witness box, insisting his colleagues had always exercised professional judgment on the level of force used.
“I believe any police officer at the scene would have had no choice but to fire tear gas to stop violent protesters from their unpeaceful, vigorous and unreasonable charging at our defence line,” he said.
Prosecutors blamed the chaos that night on the nine leaders currently standing trial. They said by inciting others to block major thoroughfares connecting Wan Chai and Central – two busy business districts – the nine intended to force authorities to respond to their political demands.
Campaigners were pushing for an open nomination for the city’s leadership race. Beijing had turned down the requests.
Three Occupy founders, academics Benny Tai Yiu-ting, 54, and Dr Chan Kin-man, 59, as well as Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, 74, have pleaded not guilty to three joint charges: conspiracy to cause public nuisance; inciting others to cause public nuisance; and inciting people to incite others to cause public nuisance.
Lawmakers Shiu Ka-chun, 49, and Tanya Chan, 47, and former student leaders Tommy Cheung Sau-yin, 24, and Eason Chung Yiu-wa, 26, have all denied the two incitement charges, as has Raphael Wong Ho-ming, 30, vice-chairman of the League of Social Democrats.
Former Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Wing-tat, 63, has denied one count of incitement to commit public nuisance.
Officer Wong’s criticism on Monday drew anger from supporters in court. “How wrong is that?” one man was heard saying, sparking a sharp glare from the veteran policeman.
Wong also made clear that although he worked that day, he was never at the scene, despite making the observations in court. He gathered his opinions from news footage, he said.
The superintendent said he was not involved in the decision to fire tear gas. Nor was he consulted about it in advance – something which invited a fresh round of questions from Edwin Choy Wai-bond SC, another defence barrister.
Choy was curious why Wong was not consulted even though he was the assistant district commander at the time. The latter said it was because he was not at the scene that day.
“But you were on duty at the time, were you not?” Choy countered.
The trial continues before Judge Johnny Chan Jong-herng on Tuesday.