Why the ICAC inquiry into Yuen Long incident is important

August 02, 2019 13:14
Men in white T-shirts with poles are seen in Yuen Long after a violent incident on July 21. Hong Kong’s anti-corruption watchdog is said to have begun a probe into the police conduct during that day. Photo: Reuters

Of all the incidents related to the extradition bill saga, the attacks that took place in Yuen Long against civilians nearly two weeks ago could perhaps be considered the most troubling.

We are all aware of the events that unfolded in Yuen Long on the night of July 21, when dozens of white-clad thugs stormed a train station and beat up anti-government demonstrators, commuters and passersby indiscriminately, leaving 45 people injured, including a pregnant woman.

What truly boggles the mind was the police’s sluggish response throughout the incident: officers didn’t arrive at the scene until 39 minutes after the massive assaults had begun. And by the time the law enforcement personnel appeared, the attackers had already fled.

According to media reports, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has initiated an investigation into the incident as it seeks to determine if there is a potential case of police misconduct in relation to discharge of duties as public servants.

As ICAC officers seek footage from surveillance cameras in the area, a recent episode of the RTHK program “Hong Kong Connection” has tried to piece together the puzzle as to what exactly happened in the New Territories town that night.

As per the surveillance footage that “Hong Kong Connection” has acquired, many white-clad men began to gather at Fung Yau Street North in Yuen Long sometime after 6 pm on July 21.

Several residents in the neighborhood said they called the police to report the goings-on, yet there was no arrival of any officer in the evening.

Worse still, between 9:30 pm and 10:30 pm, police patrol vehicles were caught on camera passing by the scene at least three times. Yet, no police officer ever got off the vehicles to check for suspected trouble-makers.

Shortly after the last police vehicle had left, the entire Yuen Long MTR station descended into chaos.

The biggest mystery here is: why didn’t the police take action against the suspected gangs, despite having received multiple 999 calls, before the groups marched toward the train station and attacked civilians randomly?

While we seek answers, what is clear now that the Yuen Long attacks have led to deepening of the social rifts in Hong Kong, and also fueled further deterioration in relations between the police and citizens.

If suspicions of “police harboring triads” or “police-triad collusion” continue to linger among the public, it won't be easy for Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to restore confidence in her administration.

Given this, it is important that the ICAC investigation lays out the truth -- some, if not all of it -- in relation to the July 21 incident and provide reassurance to citizens about protection of rule of law.

The police, for their part, should also accept the inquiry as it could offer a chance for the officers to prove their claims that they had not engaged in misconduct.

With their reputation hanging by a thread, there is a lot at stake.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 31

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal