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A police officer fires pepper spray at an anti-government protester during a rally in Central. Photo: Sam Tsang

Hong Kong protests: Amnesty International praises Hongkongers for standing up in face of ‘abusive policing’

  • Human rights group highlights anti-government protests in annual report
  • Amnesty accuses city’s police force of ‘arbitrary arrests, physical assaults, and abuses in detention’

Amnesty International has praised Hongkongers for regularly taking to the streets since June last year in the face of what it claimed were “abusive policing tactics” that included the “wanton use of tear gas, arbitrary arrests, physical assaults and abuses in detention”.

In its annual report on the Asia-Pacific, the international human rights group also said the struggle against the established order had been repeated all over the continent.

The cover of the reports shows a picture of Hong Kong protesters using umbrellas to shield themselves from the pepper water and blue dye fired from a police water cannon during an intense clash in Admiralty last year.

The protests, which were triggered by the now-withdrawn extradition bill, have morphed into a wider campaign for more democracy and the creation of an independent inquiry commission to investigate police use of force during the demonstrations.

Police water cannon fires blue dyed water at anti-government protesters in Admiralty. Photo: Felix Wong

Clashes between protesters and police have intensified over the past few months, with masked radicals hurling petrol bombs and bricks, and shooting officers with bows and arrows.

Police have responded by firing more than 16,000 rounds of tear gas, 10,000 rounds of rubber bullets, 2,000 beanbag rounds, and 19 live rounds.

Ongoing anti-government protests have also led to the arrest of 7,143 people as of January 19.

In its regional overview, Amnesty International described 2019 as a year “of repression, but also of resistance.”

“The Chinese government clamped down with renewed force on the freedoms promised to the people of Hong Kong under the terms of the handover of the territory in 1997. In the streets, those freedoms were doughtily defended against the steepest odds,” it said.

The report said protests and other efforts of civil society were successful in Hong Kong and some countries in the Asia-Pacific.

“As hard as it has become to resist, young people across the continent continue to take great risks and defy the established order,” it reads.

The report dedicated two of its 25 chapters to Hong Kong and China, respectively.

In the Hong Kong chapter, Amnesty International raised concern over Hongkongers’ freedom of peaceful assembly.

“There was a rapid deterioration in the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, expression and association as the Hong Kong authorities increasingly adopted mainland China’s vague and all-encompassing definition of national security,” it said.

The international body accused the city’s police of responding to the protests with “unnecessary and excessive use of force”.

“Amnesty International documented the police’s dangerous use of rubber bullets and beanbag rounds … and misuse of pepper spray and tear gas,” the report reads.

“On 31 August, police started deploying water cannons, mixed with irritants and dye that indiscriminately marked individuals for identification later.”

Under a subsection titled, “prisoners of conscience”, in the chapter, Amnesty International said nine leaders of the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy movement were convicted in April last year on “vague ‘public nuisance’-related charges”.

The Hong Kong government and the police force have yet to respond to the report.