Police can't go easy on itself if society is to move forward

March 04, 2020 17:12
A file picture shows a rally held by citizens at Chater Garden in Central. Hong Kong authorities have been stubbornly resisting calls for an independent inquiry into police conduct during the 2019 protests. Photo: HKEJ

After more than half a year of social unrest in the wake of a now-withdrawn extradition bill, the Hong Kong government continues to draw fire from citizens over its administrative track record.

With the situation remaining grim and many issues yet to be resolved, the popularity rating of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has hit rock-bottom.

Meanwhile, relations between the public and the police have deteriorated, as authorities ignore calls to hold law enforcement personnel accountable for their actions during the 2019 protest movement.

On Monday, the city's police chief, Chris Tang Ping-keung, made matters worse as he resorted to bureaucratic cliches and avoided giving a straight-forward assurance on the issue of action against officers who committed misdeeds or were guilty of excesses against protesters last year.

When asked about the matters taken up by police complaints cell, Tang said 21 police officers have been reprimanded so far for their conduct during the anti-government protests.

Among those cases, four are now undergoing disciplinary review, he said. Yet, Tang didn’t go into details about the review, including whether or not the officers in question will face more severe punishment.

Since June last year, clashes between civilians and the police often ended in heavy violence, and we even had some incidents where officers fired live rounds at protesters at point-blank range.

Following such violence, there had been mounting calls within society for authorities to establish an independent inquiry into all the events.

Unfortunately, both the government and the police leadership dug in their heels and rejected the calls, saying the existing complaints mechanism is sufficient and that there is no need for a separate inquiry by an independent panel.

Now, the problem is that so far not a single police officer has had to face legal consequences for their misconduct. All that the police top brass did was reprimand 21 police officers, and nothing more.

This isn't fair as far as the public are concerned. And such record on the part of authorities won't help at all in improving the relations between the police and citizens.

The police’s obstinate refusal to open an independent inquiry and the downplaying of various controversies would bolster the widely held belief among citizens that the law enforcement is going easy on itself while remaining tough on others.

If the police continue to adopt such attitude, how can Hong Kong hope to resolve the conflicts and make a new beginning?

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 3

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Hong Kong Economic Journal