It's dark in the some of the grainy video clips, but clear enough to expose an alarming development in the ongoing protests in Hong Kong: police in four different incidents at Lung Wo Road beating, kicking, or pepper spraying protesters who appear to offer no resistance or present no clear threat.
In the early hours of October 15, hundreds of police officers told 50-100 protestors to leave Lung Wo Road in Admiralty, where they had been since the previous evening. Police then started to remove barricades set up by the protesters; protesters responded by holding up hands and opened umbrellas in anticipation of being pepper sprayed. The scene turned chaotic moments later as police pushed forward to force the protesters who refused to leave the road and used pepper spray and police batons against them.
In one video clip, six police officers arrest a protester, carry him away to a darkened corner, and beat and kick him for four minutes while he lies on the ground offering no resistance. In another clip, police pepper spray a protester in the face at close range even though he has his hands up and offers no resistance; the same clip shows police yelling at journalists to leave while they were filming.
A police spokesperson said the protesters had to be dispersed because they were disrupting public order and gathering illegally, and that some had kicked and attacked officers with umbrellas. According to the spokesperson, 45 protesters had been arrested, and four officers were injured on Lung Wo Road. Eyewitnesses who spoke to us reported no such violence. Even if the police version is accurate, the excessive force used against peaceful protesters who are not resisting is utterly unacceptable.
Since these demonstrations began, the Hong Kong police have for the most part acted with restraint other than their use of pepper spray and teargas on September 28 and 29 and their failure to protect peaceful demonstrators in Mongkok on October 3. It is not clear whether last night's developments represented a change in tactics or isolated incidents of poor policing. But the fact that between half and one-third of the protesters arrested last night told their lawyers they were slapped or kicked by police is alarming, and raises more questions about police conduct.
Within hours after the video was first aired by a local television station, Hong Kong police responded by expressing concern, “reassigning” the offending officers to other positions, and vowing to undertake an “impartial investigation” into the case. While the speedy response to last night’s incidents is a positive step, it comes closely on the heels of the September 28-29 and October 3 instances of questionable police conduct. An investigation into all three incidents is imperative to halt eroding confidence in Hong Kong’s police force.