Scholars and religious figures have urged the Hong Kong government to set up an independent inquiry to investigate the clashes between protesters and the police on June 12 over the city’s controversial extradition bill.
Pro-democracy lawmakers and activists have accused the police of using excessive force when clearing demonstrators from around Admiralty that day. Police said 150 tear gas canisters, 20 beanbag rounds and several rubber bullets were used after demonstrators pushed forward throwing objects.
The city’s security chief and chief executive have said complainants can use existing procedures if they have complaints. However, Sing Ming – a political scientist at the University of Science and Technology of Hong Kong – said the existing mechanism to investigate alleged police abuse of power was not good enough.
He said the Complaints Against Police Office is an internal department of the police, whilst the Independent Police Complaints Council does not have any investigative power.
“It would be ‘police investigating police’ – it is easy for the police to be sympathetic towards each other,” Sing said. “There could be pressure on the police officer conducting the investigation as well, because the person being investigated could be someone they know, or their future supervisors.”
Sing said the investigation could examine the reasons behind the protest – during which tens of thousands of people participated. Its scope could also include the reasons behind the clashes, the force used, and the injuries sustained. It could examine the actions of the police as well as the protesters, he said.
Reverend Yuen Tin-yau, a former chair of the Hong Kong Christian Council, said many of the city’s Christians also supported an inquiry.
He said protesters and the police have been condemning each other over the use of violence: “I don’t see what the result would be. A fair way would be setting an independent committee to look into the incident thoroughly and make suggestions. This will be an important step to lead society towards harmony,” he said.
Britain has also called for an independent investigation, after halting licences for the export of crowd control gear to Hong Kong.
Pro-Beijing lawmaker Priscilla Leung said there was a need to balance opinions from different groups.
She said on an RTHK radio programme on Tuesday that police groups may need time to think about whether they would accept the scope of the proposed inquiry.
“If we use politics to resolve this, then it would just be about mobilising crowds every day – this crowd says [police] should be prosecuted, another crowd would say they should not be prosecuted,” she said. “It is not good to resolve problems by mobilising crowds. It is better to do so using the law.”
In Beijing, Li Fei – head of the National People’s Congress Constitution and Law Committee – said he did not understand why protesters would use violence against the police during protests.
“Hong Kong is a place with rule of law. It is fine to have peaceful demonstrations. But why do they have to use violence every time when they protest against the government? I do not understand,” he asked.
Hong Kong’s anti-extradition law protests, which have rocked the city over recent weeks, have been largely peaceful. Organisers said two million people attended a mass protest against the legal reforms on June 16.
Li did not give a direct answer when asked about whether the incident reflected a lack of confidence in the mainland legal system: “You don’t have to talk about other things. You tell me if [the protest] was legal or not,” he said.
The extradition bill was first proposed in February to allow the city to handle case-by-case extradition requests from jurisdictions with no prior agreement. However, there have been mass protests and widespread criticism over the risk of residents being extradited to mainland China, which lacks human rights protections. The bill was suspended after huge demonstrations, but has not been axed.
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