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Tuesday, August 13, 2019, 19:43
Baseless criticisms of police must be countered
By Tony Kwok
Tuesday, August 13, 2019, 19:43 By Tony Kwok

The street violence carried out by some protesters over the last weekend marked the 10th consecutive weekend of social unrest, and was the worst so far. Defying police bans, they descended on Sham Shui Po, Tai Po, Cheung Sha Wan, Kwai Chung, Tsim Sha Tsui, Tai Koo and Quarry Bay to vandalize public property and block roads, including the Cross Harbour Tunnel. They brazenly besieged police stations, aiming intense laser beams and hurling bricks at police officers. A police officer was burned by a gasoline bomb thrown at him. Yet, most of the media chose not to condemn such overwhelming evidence of criminality, but focused on finding faults with the police. They highlighted two incidents -- one involving a woman shot in her eye and the other concerning police officers going under cover to arrest the leading rioters.

At the police press conference on Monday chaired by Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations) Chris Tang Ping-keung, I have never seen a more unruly mob of news reporters. Even before he could finish his introductory remarks, many of the reporters, notably from Apple Daily and RTHK, were shouting questions at him and making accusatory statements alleging police brutality. It’s shocking to see reporters display their bias so openly. For example, even before the police have had a chance to investigate, they already put the blame on the police for a woman’s eye injury which occurred during a riot in Tsim Sha Tsui on Sunday.

There are actually two distinctly different versions of this incident, according to two social media groups. The opposition group highlighted a picture of the woman with blood in her injured eye, and a police bean bag can by the side. The other group showed the picture without the can. Crucially, a widely circulated Facebook entry from a nurse working in Queen Elizabeth Hospital claimed that she had attended this woman and could confirm that the shot came from an iron ball normally used as a missile fired from a slingshot carried by some of the rioters. At the press conference, it was explained that police reinforcements arrived at the scene after the woman was injured, thus ruling out the shot coming from the police. One intriguing point is that the injured woman refused to report to the police. Why? Is it because she realizes she was not shot by police but accidentally by one of the rioters? Police said they were investigating the matter and urged the victim and witnesses to come forward. It is extremely irresponsible of the media to blame the police for it, thereby inciting a large crowd of young protesters to occupy the airport on Monday and forced the airport to cancel all flights.

On the criticism of police going under cover and mingling with the rioters to make arrests, this is something I would expect from day one of the riots. This is just normal undercover operations carried out by all law enforcement agencies. ICAC officers did it all the time to crack corruption syndicates while FBI agents infiltrate terrorist groups to intercept terror plots. Police confirmed that the undercover operation was targeted at a number of key riot organizers. These people can be seen on television with their entire face covered with an expensive facial mask and taking control at the scene. They were always the first to run when riot police started their charge. How else can you expect the police to bring these criminals to justice? There are strict rules for undercover operations for police and the ICAC, which were approved by the Department of Justice. One states very clearly that undercover officers are not allowed to incite any crime. They cannot be agent provocateurs. The insinuation that they may have incited riots is totally untrue and highly irresponsible. On the contrary, they are not allowed to conduct any illegal activities. Rather than besmirching these brave officers who went undercover to conduct dangerous investigations, they should be commended. In fact, some of the arrests they made were shown on TV and were applauded by the public.

Police should “make participating in riot a high risk crime“, step up their arrest of rioters at the scene, bring them before the court the following day, and request the court to remand them in jail custody for further investigation

Indeed, I would commend the police for making more arrests in their recent operations instead of merely dispersing the crowds. In the last 10 weeks, it was evidently clear that just forcing the rioters to retreat and go home has little deterrent effect as they would just take a free ride on the MTR back home, without any consequence, and return to do their rioting on another day. The ICAC’s operational experience is worth adopting to more effectively tackle the current lawlessness.  The ICAC's motto is “to make corruption a high-risk crime”, meaning that corrupt offenders should expect there’s more than a 50 percent chance of them being arrested by the ICAC. Similarly, police should “make participating in riot a high risk crime“, step up their arrest of rioters at the scene, bring them before the court the following day, and request the court to remand them in jail custody for further investigation. The young rioters would then realize that once they are arrested and convicted, their conviction record would stay with them for the rest of their lives with various adverse consequences. Such a risk should deter many of them from participating in another riot again.

Before anyone accuses the police of violence, they should know that if they refrain from participating in any illegal assembly, if they listen to police warnings to disperse, if they heed the police warnings of the imminent use of tear gas, pepper smoke and shooting, there is no possibility of anyone getting hurt. Perhaps, the police should change their warning flag and adopt the one used by the mainland’s Public Security Bureau which carries the simple message “Disperse or bear the consequences”!  

Many lawyers accused the Department of Justice of double standards in that those arrested for rioting were quickly charged and brought to court while the prosecution against the thugs in Yuen Long was slow in coming. I am amazed that even experienced criminal lawyers like Martin Lee Chu-ming would make such allegations. He should know better. The difference is that the rioters were caught in the act, while the Yuen Long assault was being investigated by police after it had taken place, and it would take time to positively identify the culprits and collect sufficient evidence to bring them to court. Just like in ICAC operations, if a corrupt offender was arrested in an ambush in the act of receiving the bribe, he would normally be taken to court very quickly.   

The Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office’s latest warning that there is a sign of terrorist activity within the rioting movement is correct. The public should thank our police for uncovering the three bomb factories. Imagine the horrific consequence if any of these bombs were used in the riots. Our police are doing a magnificent but thankless job maintaining peace and order under the most challenging circumstances. It’s no exaggeration to say it is the Hong Kong Police Force which prevents the disintegration of our society at this critical moment. The least the public can do is to show moral support for them.

The author is an adjunct professor of HKU Space and adviser of Our Hong Kong Foundation. He’s the first local head of operations of the ICAC.

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