Hong Kong’s number two official Matthew Cheung has apologised for the way the government handled the Yuen Long attacks on Sunday, and for the first time described its perpetrators as “thugs.”
However, his apology was denounced by some police officers, who appeared to have posted pictures distancing themselves from Cheung’s remarks.
At a Friday press conference, Cheung denounced the Yuen Long attack as “lawless” and “hair-raising,” noting that innocent members of the public became victims of thuggery. The attack left 45 people injured, as the police force came under fire for its slow response. Twelve arrests have since been made.
“With regard to the way we handled this incident… there is a discrepancy between what the police did and what the public expected. I am absolutely willing to apologise to the public for our handling of the incident,” Cheung said.
“This incident has caused a lot of unhappiness for everyone, and… I feel it falls squarely on the government to take up its responsibility.”
He also called on the public not to resort to violence at the upcoming protest, calling on those who plan to go to Yuen Long on Saturday to express their views peacefully and rationally.
A protest march was originally scheduled for Saturday afternoon at Yuen Long, but was banned by police. An attempt to appeal the ban failed on Friday afternoon.
Asked whether the government would consider establishing an independent commission of inquiry – one of the protesters’ core demands – Cheung demurred, saying that the matter should be left to the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC).
“So we are engaged now, if I put it rightly, in a reflective process on the whole issue,” he said. “We are fully aware of these public sentiments – a very strong body of opinion in the public sector urging the government to establish a commission.”
Dissent from police force
Shortly after Cheung’s apology, a few photos were circulated online which appeared to show police epaulettes and identification cards put next to a printed statement.
One read: “Matthew Cheung, why do you deserve to represent the police force? If you want to apologise, you should resign. From June 9, the police force has executed its duties and never spoke badly of the government.”
“The police will be criticised no matter what it does, and now you’re adding to the chorus?… So long as Matthew Cheung does not step down, or apologises to the whole force, he will be a sworn enemy of the police!”
The statement was paired with epaulettes belonging to a superintendent, and another similar photo showed the statement placed next to epaulettes of a chief inspector.
At the press conference, Cheung was asked about a statement critical of the administration which has garnered over 100 signatures from Administrative Officers – elite civil servants in Hong Kong.
“We understand that civil servants have emotions, and the government respects their freedom to express their opinions. We also hope that they will remain steadfast in their duties, and do not affect the quality of the government’s services,” he replied.