Hong Kong police told to use new tactics to confront protesters during Occupy, retired officer tells court
Retired officer’s testimony offers a rare glimpse into police tactics in an operation that reopened thoroughfares in the city’s busy shopping district
Police were trained and equipped to defend the streets using new tactics to confront passive protesters during the 2014 Occupy demonstrations, a retired senior police officer accused of using excessive force told a court on Wednesday.
Frankly Chu, 57, took the witness stand for the first time after Principal Magistrate Bina Chainrai ruled earlier in the day that the former superintendent must answer to one count of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, a charge he has denied.
“I was told that the junction at Argyle Street was very important,” Chu said. “My duty on that night was to defend Argyle Street.”
Prosecutors alleged Chu used excessive force when he struck Osman Cheng Chung-hang, 28, while he was on duty outside the Shanghai Commercial Bank in Mong Kok on November 26, 2014.
Chu has not denied hitting Cheng, but has said his actions did not cross the line into assault.
His highly anticipated testimony offered a rare glimpse into police tactics in a clearance operation that reopened thoroughfares in the city’s busy shopping district after 60 days of occupation by protesters demanding greater democracy.
Eastern Court heard Chu was deployed on November 25 and 26 to conduct crowd control outside the bank, which sits at the junction of Nathan Road and Argyle Street.
He said reopening Argyle Street was crucial to resuming traffic on Nathan Road, which stretches all the way from Tsim Sha Tsui to Prince Edward.
Officers had already failed on October 17 to reopen Nathan Road. From then on, Chu recalled “the situation in Mong Kok deteriorated” and “police tolerance towards the bottom line of the law” grew as clashes and physical violence became commonplace.
But in November, the High Court handed down injunctions for Argyle Street and Nathan Road to be cleared.
“My understanding of my operation was that this street could not be obstructed,” he said.
After the use of tear gas on September 28, the first of 79 days of Occupy protests, Chu said using gas again “was not to be considered”, despite no specific instructions barring it.
Officers in the operation were equipped with helmets, guns, pepper spray and extendable batons.
While some, like himself and other elite police units, were issued an additional baton that required a different kind of training.
Chu said these batons were issued after the failed October operation, and officers were trained to use them in combatting passive protesters who approach police with their hands in the air.
“Everyone knows what a baton is for,” Chu said. “There is a preparatory position. But in relation to each strike, [it depends on] different officer’s confidence and their knowledge of this baton … and ability.
“There are things that cannot be taught,” he added.
Chu, a Catholic, joined the Hong Kong Police Force on September 24, 1979. He was promoted to inspector in 1984, then chief inspector in 1993, and superintendent in 2006.
In his 37 years of service, the court heard Chu handled armed robberies and riots in Vietnamese refugee camps while he was attached to the Emergency Unit, and was responsible for the planning and policing of the World Trade Organisation’s ministerial meeting in 2005.
He also trained officers at the Police Tactical Unit, where he modernised and refined the training curriculum on public order policing, which included defending the police cordon line, and the containment and dispersal of crowds.
On the day of the alleged offence, Chu was just about a month away from his pre-retirement leave.
Chu will continue his testimony on Thursday.