Local human rights watchdogs have urged the Hong Kong Police Force to strengthen its oversight system to prevent abuse of power by officers.
The calls came after the District Court convicted seven police officers on Tuesday in a high-profile case of assault against Occupy activist Ken Tsang that took place more than two years ago.
Barrister and former lawmaker Alan Leong of the Civic Party said Tuesday’s ruling “came very late,” but it was just and would help restore public confidence in the justice system.
But public trust in police may take a long time to rebuild, Andrew Shum Wai-nam of the watchdog Civil Rights Observers warned.
“In recent years we have observed an upward trend of power abuse and arbitrary arrests by police, and finally we have one ruling convicting these officers. We hope the force will treat this case seriously and review their treatment towards protesters.”
To address this issue, the activist said: “The force should first better train its officers and have a mechanism in place to ensure internal discipline, not just rely on the criminal justice system to solve the problem after incidents of misconduct take place.”
He also expressed concern over the lack of an effective system that allows complainants to hold officers accountable.
“During the Occupy protests, many protesters in Mong Kok were beaten so badly they had blood all over them, and the police’s use of force was obviously not reasonable,” he said.
“But it is very difficult to report these incidents when there is no video or other evidence, and it is often impossible to find the officers involved because many don’t show their police identification numbers [while on duty]… It is very difficult to prove that police officers abused their power in these cases.”
Shum urged the authorities to explain why they took more than two years to prosecute the seven officers. “This shouldn’t be the norm. It is also a concern that they acted swiftly against protesters while taking so long to bring charges against public officers.”
Franklin Chu King-wai
Tuesday’s verdict also raised concern over another high-profile allegation against a retired officer.
Shum and other pro-democracy figures are calling on the authorities to take legal action against retired superintendent Franklin Chu King-wai. Chu was filmed appearing to hit a pedestrian with a baton during the Occupy protests on November 26, 2014 in Mong Kok, more than 800 days ago.
Au Nok-hin, district councillor and spokesperson for the Civil Human Rights Front, said Tuesday’s conviction of the seven officers is a warning to police that they will be punished by the criminal justice system if they abuse their power.
“The ‘seven cops’ case is only the tip of the iceberg of police abuse during the Umbrella Movement. For another notable police assault case of Franklin Chu, there has not been any legal action taken against Chu,” Au said.
“The latest report by the Independent Police Complaints Council also confirmed that the complaint against Chu was substantiated,” he said, adding that his group “strongly condemns” Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen for not bringing charges against the retired officer.
Last week, lawyers of the complainant in Chu’s case issued an ultimatum to the justice secretary, asking him to prosecute Chu within two months.
They warned that if the government still fails to take action against the retired officer after two months, they would exhaust all legal means possible, including private prosecution.
Police officer Joe Chan Cho-kwong of the Junior Police Officers’ Association said in a statement on Tuesday that he “very much regrets” the court’s decision to convict the seven police officers.
“I understand that some members found the ruling biased, unfair and unjust… but Hong Kong’s justice system is a cornerstone for a just society and cannot be shaken. As law enforcement agents, police must defend our justice system,” Chan wrote.
“[W]e must express our dissatisfaction and disagreement with the ruling reasonably and through legal means,” he added. “We are in close contact with police management and will provide appropriate assistance to our seven colleagues and their families.”
Some online commenters have made posts targeting the judge who convicted the officers. A demonstration will be held on Saturday to protest the judge’s decision, and another on Friday to urge the justice secretary to prosecute the organisers behind the Occupy protests.