Security chief accused of double-speak over PolyU protesters

November 21, 2019 16:34
Protesters are escorted by medical personnel after leaving PolyU on Wednesday. Security chief John Lee said that if the underage protesters who remain in campus leave, the police will let them go, but would still conduct detailed probes. Photo: Reuters

Security Secretary John Lee Ka-chiu is facing criticism over remarks he made in relation to the protesters who were at the besieged Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), with the official being accused of double-speak and insensitivity that would hinder crisis-resolution efforts. 

Lee told media at the Legislative Council Complex on Wednesday afternoon that if the underage protesters who remain in PolyU leave the campus, the police will only record their details and then let them go, but they would still face detailed investigations.

For those who are above 18 years of age, "when they go to the police,” the officers "will arrest them for taking part in riot,” the security chief said.

Lee said it is important to emphasize that "for every person who is dealt with by the police”, there will be thorough investigation conducted to “see the evidence against each one of them.”

The police will "take into consideration the circumstances of the whole case and the relevant part relating to a particular individual before deciding what to do,” the official said.

It was noticed that Lee no longer used the word "surrender" to describe all of the protesters leaving the PolyU campus voluntarily, in contrast to what he said a few hours ago the same day.

On Wednesday morning, Lee claimed that, as of that time, there had been about 800 to 900 people who were willing to surrender from the PolyU campus, including about 300 who are aged below 18.

The official's remarks in the morning sparked a backlash almost immediately, with Lee being criticized for using imprecise descriptions.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Au Nok-hin said while students or protesters were forced to leave the PolyU campus by following police instructions, it did not mean that they surrendered.

Au stressed that anyone who voluntarily left the campus by following the police arrangements, it does not amount to admitting that they committed the offense of rioting.

Similarly, for those who continue to stay in the PolyU campus, Au said, this does not mean that they refuse to admit having committed the rioting offense.

The lawmaker believed the government is obligated to clarify such an issue.

Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen, one of the “mediators” who had participated in negotiations with the police and had assisted protesters in leaving peacefully, also pointed out that leaving voluntarily was not tantamount to surrendering, which he said is confession of crime.

Ip said he hopes to see the situation getting eased so that all the students can leave safely. There should not be any unnecessary disputes, he added.

Lee Kin-man, principal of Salesians of Don Bosco Ng Siu Mui Secondary School, called Lee’s “surrender” remark surprising. Lee had been among those secondary school principals assisting students in leaving.

He explained that the police promised that, for those underage students who voluntarily leave the PolyU campus, it would not be an arrest operation.

Instead, the minors could leave after their identities are recorded, the police have assured, though they said they reserve the right to take legal action against them in the future, the school principal said

He pointed out that it was the promise of being allowed to leave without arrest that prompted several underage students to leave the PolyU campus in the past two days with the assistance of the school principals.

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