How a policeman and Urdu saved a man's life

By Ben Pang

Police officer Ifzal Zaffar convinces a man not to kill himself by talking to him in Urdu, the language of Pakistan

By Ben Pang |

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Ifzal Zaffar’s video on the Hong Kong Police Force’s Facebook page has more than 100,000 views.

Officer Ifzal Zaffar, 20, is a hero. The local policeman of Pakistani origin saved his fellow countryman who threatened to kill himself. Zaffar was called to the scene on Sunday morning after a man named Anan climbed a crane at a construction site near the Western Harbour Tunnel. Zaffar climbed up and spoke to Anan in Urdu, and persuaded him to come down.

Zaffar, who also speaks fluent Cantonese, said negotiation techniques were key to persuading Anan to come down from the crane.

“I expressed empathy, said something positive, and used my own language to build trust between me and Anan,” Zaffar said in a Facebook video filmed by the Hong Kong Police Force. “When he believed in me, he moved down slowly. With trust, I can handle cases more easily.”

The young officer added that his mother language – Urdu – is key to overcoming the language barrier between police and groups in other parts of the city. In Yau Tsim District, where he mainly patrols, there are a number of South Asian ethnic groups.

Before joining the force last year, Zaffar took part in a programme called Project Gemstone, which recruits non-Chinese police officers. He said Gemstone was a stepping-stone for making his dream come true.

Zaffar said his family “thought that our language would make it hard for me to handle cases, since there weren’t many examples of ethnic officers. But I persuaded them and they allowed me to study for it. Finally, I got the offer.”

Sehar Naveed, a 20-year-old City University student of Pakistani origin, would like to see more officers like Zaffar.

“Many ethnic groups are scared of calling the police because of the language barrier,” she said. “So it’s good that the force is recruiting more people from different countries. It’s easier for them to offer help and handle cases, as they share our languages and cultures.”

Edited by Sam Gusway