29 February 2020
Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations) Chris Tang said the undercover officers were targeting "core violent rioters". Photo: HKEJ
Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations) Chris Tang said the undercover officers were targeting "core violent rioters". Photo: HKEJ

Police admit infiltrating protesters to catch ‘violent rioters’

Hong Kong police have admitted infiltrating the ranks of protesters for the purpose of identifying “extremely violent rioters” and causing their arrest.

Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations) Chris Tang Ping-keung said the force designed an “intelligence-led” operation after it realized that a core of violent people had taken the lead during demonstrations to provoke police officers and use “lethal weapons” on them since the anti-extradition bill movement began in June, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

In view of this, some officers disguised as “different characters” mixed with the protesters to target such radicals, Tang told a daily media briefing on Monday.

The revelation came after news media representatives covering clashes between police and protesters in Causeway Bay on Sunday night, noticed that several men wearing black clothes and helmets like ordinary demonstrators had joined riot police officers in beating and arresting protesters.

The “impersonation” strategy was part of the police operation, Tang said, adding that it was not against the force’s guidelines.

He refused to say, however, when the police started implementing the strategy and how many undercover officers were dispatched, noting that those were operational details.

Asked whether police intended to use undercover officers to instigate the protesters into committing violent acts and whether they also did illegal acts, Tang said the officers would not do anything that violates the law as they had been well-instructed before carrying out the operation.

He said a black-clad person caught holding a gun on camera was definitely not a police officer.

Police said 15 of the “core violent rioters” were arrested on Sunday, and a total of 149 people, including 111 men and 38 women, were arrested between last Friday and Monday.

In response to allegations that an officer was caught in a news footage putting an object that resembled a stick in an arrested protester’s backpack, Senior Superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah of the Police Organised Crime and Triad Bureau said officers would not engage in framing up protesters.

Li said it was a serious allegation that might constitute obstruction of justice.

Police will review the footage, what happened before and after it was taken, as well as other available evidence, Li said as he called on people to provide any further information regarding the case.

Serious injuries

As for the woman who was seriously injured in the right eye, apparently after being shot with a bean bag round by riot police during a dispersal operation in Tsim Sha Tsui on Sunday, Assistant Commissioner of Police (Operations) Terence Mak Chin-ho admitted that bean bag rounds were fired during the operation.

But after reviewing the footage of the incident and making further inquiries, police could not find evidence showing what caused her injuries, Mak said, adding that there were quite a number of weapons at the scene. He promised to follow up on the case.

Regarding the use of tear gas inside the Kwai Fong MTR Station, Li said only one canister of tear gas was fired.

He also said officers had taken into consideration that the station had a “half-open design” instead of being located underground.

As for the firing pepper balls at fleeing protesters at close range at the Tai Koo MTR Station, Chief Superintendent John Tse Chun-chung of the Police Public Relations Branch said the pepper ball launcher can be used at close distance and in confined spaces.

At a separate press conference on Monday afternoon, Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu said a  particular group of people had committed serious violent acts during clashes with the police.

‘Seed of terror’

“You can see petrol bombs being thrown, you can see fires being set,” Lee said. “This is sowing the seed of terror, which I think the police must deal with, and I think in this context, we have to understand why the police have to take the action that they needed to take.

On Tuesday morning, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor reiterated her support for law enforcement, saying if there is no rule of law, the safety of the city’s 7 million people cannot be guaranteed.

She spoke to reporters before attending a meeting of the Executive Council, which ended its summer break two weeks early.

Asked whether police abused their power and used excessive force against protesters on Sunday, Lam said the police have had a very difficult time over the past two months in enforcing the law and ensuring law and order in the city, RTHK reported.

“As everyone will observe, they are under extremely difficult circumstances. Police operations could not be determined by someone like myself who’s outside the police, especially when policemen have to make on-the-spot judgement of what will be in the best interest and safety of people around during that particular situation. The police have their code of practice to follow. The police have very rigid and stringent guidelines in the use of force,” the public broadcaster quoted Lam as saying.

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