Pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong say the city’s police are continuing to make arbitrary arrests of citizens in the wake of protests against a planned coronavirus clinic in a Kowloon neighborhood.
Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan called on police officers to stop abusing their power, and asked Kwai Chung police commander John Tse to apologize to the arrested people.
The move came after police in Kwai Chung arrested a food delivery worker and a first-aid volunteer after protesters gathered at the Kwai Luen housing estate on Feb. 11 to oppose plans for a COVID-19 clinic there.
Wan said the pair were detained arbitrarily after he organized a public meeting about the clinic. The volunteer, who wished only to be identified by the nickname Cindy, said she had attended the meeting, after which she remained on the premises to spend time with friends from the neighborhood.
A police officer suddenly got out of his vehicle, approached Cindy and grabbed her on suspicion of the “illegal use” of walkie-talkies. She was taken elsewhere after police spotted surveillance cameras nearby.
“During questioning, he was cursing me out,” Cindy said.
“I’m afraid that, even though I made bail, they will finish the investigation and suddenly come for me again.”
A fellow first-aid volunteer said he was kicked after not spreading his legs in the manner expected by the police during a stop-and-search on the same night.
A second arrestee, a food delivery worker identified only by his nickname OK, said he was waiting to take an order, and didn’t know how he could have committed “illegal assembly,” the alleged reason for his arrest.
He said his arrest had affected his ability to do his job, and he had been punished by his employer —relegated to a second-string status used only to cover when other staff are unavailable— as a result of his unauthorized absence that night.
“I was just waiting to take an order,” OK said. “I told them I was working, but they persisted.”
“They confiscated my delivery bag, so how can I do my job? Their failure to return it has had a major impact on my work,” he said.
Kwai Tsing district councilor Roy Kwong said he was present on the day of the meeting, and that residents had behaved in a completely calm and peaceful manner.
“I wonder if the police are waiting for the journalists to leave, then they’ll come and arrest me too?” he said.
“These arrests are nowhere near normal. This is a criminalization of the young,” Kwong said.
“It is perfectly normal to go and attend a residents’ meeting to find out if there is going to be coronavirus clinic in your neighborhood.”
“Everyone came down to express their views in a very calm atmosphere,” he said.
Requests for comment from the Hong Kong Police were met with no response as of Monday morning.
DoS calls out Police
Last week, the U.S. State Department issued an annual report citing reports from Amnesty International and other sources as saying that police had beaten and mistreated individuals in custody, with several reports emerging of sexual assault in detention.
“Several activists alleged that police abused detainees at the San Uk Ling Holding Center, including breaking bones and sexually assaulting detainees,” the report said.
“The police denied those allegations.”
It said many Hong Kong residents and experts said police officers had used excessive force to disperse crowds or arrest individuals suspected of participating in violent protests on several occasions.
It cited the U.N. Human Rights Office as saying that there was “credible evidence” the Hong Kong police were “employing less lethal weapons in ways that are prohibited by international norms and standards” when conducting crowd dispersal operations.
“Critics also noted that police officers frequently did not show identification when conducting crowd dispersal operations, which made it difficult to identify officers who may have committed abuses,” the report found.
It said there had been numerous reports of political arrests of activists in a bid to discourage protesters and keep numbers down, while “multiple sources” said Chinese state security agents were monitoring political activists and rights campaigners, as well as academics critical of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
The report also found that the authorities, whether in Hong Kong or Beijing, had “restricted or sought to restrict the right to express or report on dissenting political views, particularly support for Hong Kong independence.”
Additionally, it said government actions, including prosecutions of activists and refusals to grant approval for some assemblies, had also infringed on the rights of Hongkongers to peaceful assembly and protest.
Reported by Man Hoi-tsan for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.