The chief of the Hong Kong Police Force has backed down on his assertion that the violent clashes between his men and protesters opposing the extradition bill last Wednesday was a riot, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
In a media conference called late in the evening on Monday, Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung acknowledged that “there were a lot of discussions ongoing about the term ‘riot’ that I have used in the press conference to describe the situation.”
Seeking to clarify what he said last Wednesday, Lo said: “What I meant at that time is the behavior displayed by some protesters [that might be considered as] rioting offenses. As such, those others who had participated in the same public order event but had not engaged in any violent acts need not worry about committing a rioting offense.”
He said police are not saying that the entire event was a riot, adding that he believes most of the protesters were peaceful.
Lo made the remarks after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor apologized to the people of Hong Kong for causing disappointment and grief among them in a government statement issued Sunday night.
During the clashes last Wednesday, dozens of people, including protesters and police officers, were injured. The protesters assailed the police for using excessive force.
Lo used the word “riot” to describe the situation at Admiralty on the day of the clashes. Lam, in a televised address, also described the scenes around the Legislative Council on that day as “acts of rioting”.
A government press release issued on Wednesday night also described it as a riot. And Lam, during a media session on Saturday, when she announced the suspension of legislative work on the extradition bill, refused to rescind her description of the event when asked if she would do so.
Lo told media on Monday night that although the police have so far arrested 15 people for allegedly committing riot or other violent offenses, only five of them were arrested for riot-related offenses.
Police officers arrested 17 other people in the vicinity of the government offices in Admiralty on the same day for allegedly committing other offenses, including failure to produce identity documents, loitering, and possession of equipment for illegal purpose.
Since the threshold for the prosecution of a riot is very high, police “need to collect sufficient evidence and consult the Department of Justice before laying a charge”, Lo said.
Reacting to Lo’s about-face, the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), which organized the massive protests against the extradition bill, said all of the demonstrators last Wednesday loved Hong Kong and none of them was a rioter.
The group said Lo’s failure to respond to the question about whether police had used excessive force against the demonstrators that day made them angry. It asked Lo to assume responsibility and step down.
Two pan-democratic lawmakers, Au Nok Hin from the Council Front and Roy Kwong Chun-yu from the Democratic Party, said they plan to raise the issues surrounding the incident at Legco for discussion.
Senior Counsel Hectar Pun Hei told a radio program that the demand for police to retract their categorization of the clashes as a riot was not unreasonable as such categorization is only a political wording but not a legal definition.
Dr. Lam Ching-choi, a non-official member of the Executive Council, said he does not consider protesting students as rioters but the tag put on them may lead the public to take it the wrong way.
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