Police officers "reassigned" after apparent assault on protester

Staff writer, Agence France-Presse

Last night, a small group of Hong Kong police was involved in an apparent assault on a protester, which left the protester battered and bruised. The city's security chief said they've since been dealt with

Staff writer, Agence France-Presse |

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A protester, later identified as Ken Tsang Kin-chui of the Civic Party, is taken away by police before they appeared to assault him.

[UPDATE - 12:44pm, October 15]

Hong Kong police officers involved in an apparent assault on a protester have been “reassigned”, the city’s security chief said Wednesday, after video emerged of a handcuffed man  being beaten and kicked.

The footage aired by TVB after overnight clashes between police and pro-democracy demonstrators sparked outrage and calls for prosecution from activists and lawmakers.

It shows six plainclothes officers hauling a handcuffed and unarmed  demonstrator to a dark corner in a protest-hit public park, and being placed on  the ground.

One officer stands over the man and punches him, as three others are seen repeatedly kicking him. TVB said the assault lasted four minutes.

“Police are concerned over the issue and will carry out a just and fair  investigation,” Hong Kong’s Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok told  reporters.

“The policemen who are involved in the incident have been removed from  their current working positions,” he said without specifying how many officers were being investigated.

Civic Party, one of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy political groups, identified  the man in the video as one of its members, Ken Tsang.

“The Civic Party legal team is handling the situation,” Civic Party  lawmaker Claudia Mo told AFP.

Prominent student leader Joshua Wong said people had lost all faith in the police after the brutal incident. 

“The proper action police should take is to bring the protester to the police car, not to take him away and then punch and kick him for four minutes,”  he told reporters.

Skirmishes broke out in the early hours of Wednesday as police tried to clear a new barricade made by demonstrators across a road close to the  government’s embattled headquarters.

The violence was among the worst seen during more than two weeks of rallies that have drawn huge crowds calling for Beijing to grant the semi-autonomous city the right to hold free elections.

The protests have been sparked by China’s insistence it will vet candidates standing for election as the semi-autonomous city’s next leader in 2017, which theprotesters call a “fake democracy”.

Hongkongers woke to shocking news this morning that the Occupy Central protest had turned violent. Videos circulated online of police apparently taking away a protester and kicking him, other video showed officers tearing the goggles off a downed protester and spraying them full in the face. Pictures showed the police pepper spraying unarmed protesters who had their hands raised. Police used batons and fists to get the job done.

Protesters clashed with dozens of police using batons and pepper spray early this morning, in some of worst violence since pro-democracy demonstrations began more than two weeks ago. The confrontation broke out during a police operation to clear newly erected barricades on a main road next to the city’s embattled government headquarters.

A wall of police armed with shields and batons marched before dawn on crowds clutching the umbrellas that have become emblematic of their fight for full democracy. 

Police used their fists and batons to beat back protesters who refused to retreat, aiming pepper spray in their faces in wild scenes. 

Others were pulled to the ground, handcuffed and hauled away by officers, and there were injuries on both sides. Police said that 45 people had been arrested in the operation, including 37 men and eight women.

Within an hour police had regained control of Lung Wo Road, which sits just metres from the offices of Chief Executive Leung Chin-Ying, ending the hort-lived occupation that protesters staged the day before.

The violence was among the worst seen since the start of rallies that have drawn huge crowds calling for Beijing to grant the semi-autonomous city the right to hold free elections. The central government has insisted it will vet candidates standing for election as the semi-autonomous city’s next leader in 2017 - a move protesters deride as “fake democracy”.

While the activists have been praised for their civility and organisational skills, they have also brought widespread disruption and traffic congestion to the financial hub, and tempers on all sides have begun to fray.


'Emotions are very unstable'

A police statement said officers had warned that "advancing against police cordon line even with their arms raised is not a peaceful act", and had appealed to the demonstrators to "stay calm and restrained". 

Ben Ng, an 18-year-old student, was with protesters near a newly built barricade when the baton-wielding contingent approached. "Police used pepper spray without any threat or warning. Protesters were beaten by police," he said. "Both protesters and police, their emotions are very unstable."

Journalists were also jostled by security forces and warned they would not be treated any differently if they breached a cordon.

"[Police] grabbed me, more than 10 police, and they beat me, punches, kicks, elbows. I tried to tell them I’m a reporter but they didn't listen,” Daniel Cheung, a reporter for an online news portal, told AFP.

Cheung, who suffered cuts to his lip and bruises on his neck and back, said he was later released after showing his press card.


Tearing down barricades

The protests that have paralysed parts of the city over the last fortnight have largely been peaceful. But ugly scuffles have frequently broken out between demonstrators and government loyalists, sparking accusations the authorities are using hired thugs. Patience is running short in some quartres, with shop owners and taxi drivers losing business and commuters voicing irritation at extensive disruptions on the roads and on public transport.

Direct confrontation with police has been much less common, however. Today’s running battles were some of the most serious since September 28, when riot police fired tear gas at largely peaceful crowds.

In the last two days, officers have begun swooping in to remove barricades on the edges of protest sites in the city, shrinking their footprint and opening some roads to traffic, while allowing the bulk of demonstrators to stay in place.

A new poll released yesterday by Hong Kong University showed Leung’s support rating dropped 2.6 per cent from late last month to 40.6 per cent, his second-lowest rating since he came to office in 2012.

Protest leader Alex Chow Yong-kang on Tuesday reiterated a call for Leung - whose resignation protesters are demanding - to restart stalled talks after the government abruptly cancelled a dialogue last week.