16 January 2019
Recycling center OYIF was featured in a TVB program a few years ago (inset top). Environmental groups have accused the police of making some wrongful arrests this week following the Mong Kok clashes. Photos: Apple Daily, YouTube, Facebook
Recycling center OYIF was featured in a TVB program a few years ago (inset top). Environmental groups have accused the police of making some wrongful arrests this week following the Mong Kok clashes. Photos: Apple Daily, YouTube, Facebook

After Mong Kok clashes, fresh questions about the police

Four days after the Mong Kok clashes, questions are still being raised about the conduct of the police and whether the officers could have handled the situation better.

As investigations continue over the violent incidents and suspects are rounded up, citizens are also wondering if the police is using “riots” as an excuse to make unnecessary arrests.

On Thursday, two women and one man were taken into custody on charges of possessing weapons and dangerous chemicals.

That came after the police said they found some knives and wooden and iron rods at a unit in an industrial building in Kwai Chung.

Officers said the matter needs investigation as it is possible that some of the weapons could have found their way to the Mong Kok protesters.

However, environmentalist groups accused the police of making wrongful arrests, saying the unit involved was only a recycling center.

The people arrested have nothing to deal with the Mong Kok clashes, the groups said. 

If what the environmentalists say is true, the arrests were based on “groundless” evidence or wrong intelligence.

Innocent people are being hauled up in order to satisfy the public’s call for some answers to the Monday clashes and to respond to the government’s demand to bring the guilty to book, critics say.

It’s surprising why authorities didn’t bother to conduct a comprehensive and detailed background check on the industrial building unit before carrying out a raid, they say.

The case is just another example, the critics argue, of how professionalism has been undermined in the police force.

The incidents this week come on top of moves made during the 2014 Occupy protests, when police officers were accused of using excessive force on pro-democracy activists. 

As the force comes under increasing scrutiny, there is no doubt overall that the Hong Kong Police, once regarded as the best in the region, has begun to lose its sheen of professionalism and neutrality when dealing with events of political nature.

With Hong Kong society split into two camps, one supporting the establishment and the other opposed to it, the police is accused of siding with the political bosses rather than doing what is right.

Just like the arrests after the Occupy campaign, the police seem eager to label people as “guilty”, without waiting for the judiciary to reach a conclusion.

It appears that the entire government, from the chief executive to the front line police officers, have worn colored glasses and forgotten that they have no power to pronounce anyone as guilty.

Citizens are closely watching how the police respond to the public’s complaints regarding officers’ behavior during the Mong Kok clashes, especially as to how the police treat the arrested before their cases are heard in the court.

Several arrestees have complained that they were beaten up during detention in the police station after the clashes. One of the arrested people claimed he was brought into a police car in Mong Kok by force and was bullied by the police to admit to a crime.

Now, is it fair that the arrested have to suffer such punishment?

Meanwhile, the police have also been accused of depriving the legal rights of detainees.

Scholarism group member Derek Lam, who was arrested by the police on Tuesday for allegedly participating in a riot, was detained for 48 hours without any opportunity to contact his lawyer for professional legal advice.

Lam was forced to give a confession without legal advice.

In another case, officials failed to give a reasonable explanation as to why a Ming Pao Daily News journalist was attacked by the police in Mong Kok even though the person pointed out that he was from the media and he was also wearing his press identity card.

Video footage showed the journalist was attacked by the police for several minutes. But four days after the incident, the police are yet to contact the journalist to offer an apology or even show their sympathy.

While the public criticized the police for strong-arm tactics during the clashes, police officers were busy defending their action.

For example, they defended a move by a traffic policeman to fire two warning gun shots into the air, saying the action shouldn’t be deemed inappropriate given the circumstances.

Officials also said the police have done nothing wrong in throwing back bricks at the protesters, and denied there were any “emotional issues” involved.

But video footage showed the policemen at the scene were losing their temper and behaving in a manner untoward of the local disciplinary force.

As the clashes resulted in injuries to about 90 policemen, the Junior Police Officers’ Association has called for purchase of water cannons to control chaotic situations in future.

No will grudge the police improved riot gear, but what is more important for the force is a change in the general attitude toward anyone taking to the streets.

Given the various social and political issues confronting the city, Hong Kong is bound to see more public protests and demonstrations in future.

The police will face severe challenges as they seek to maintain law and order.

The violence resorted to by some protesters in Mong Kok this week is deplorable, and every right-thinking Hong Kong citizen will condemn it.

But the police must ponder whether their response could have been better, and if some of their actions – like firing gun shots into the air – may have actually aggravated the situation.

The force needs to redouble its efforts to win back public trust and dispel the impression that they are merely serving as a tool for political authorities.

The events this week offer some lessons for everyone.

Founder of the recycling center, OYIF (Oh Yes It’s Free), was interviewed in a TVB program in 2013 (in Cantonese)

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EJ Insight writer

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