Police defended their decision to cut short a massive pro-democracy march staged on New Year’s Day, saying some of the participants were turning violent.
In a police press briefing on Thursday afternoon, Senior Superintendent (Operations) Ng Lok-chun of Hong Kong Island Region said a small number of rioters had been seen vandalizing a coffee shop and a bank branch on Hennessy Road in an attempt to hijack what was supposed to be a peaceful public event organized by the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), less than two hours after it began, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
As the police force did not think the organizers had the ability to stop the radical protesters and ensure the safety of the other participants, it had no choice but to terminate the march, Ng said.
If the march had not been stopped, peaceful demonstrators could have faced higher risks, he said, adding that police fired?tear gas only after rioters starting hurling petrol bombs at them.
As for the allegation that the police made arbitrary arrests after the march was terminated, Ng explained that those who remained at the scene were?deliberately staying to block the roads as most of the participants had already left after officers?unfurled a blue flag and a black flag.
Those who were intercepted and checked by officers were later allowed to go after they were found to have no involvement in unlawful assembly, he said.
Ng also said police had to widen the cordon of interception because they needed enough space to conduct their investigation.
They had to make sure those intercepted would not pose a risk to officers, citizens and journalists, before letting them go, he added.
Chief Superintendent Kwok Ka-chuen of the Police Public Relations Branch in the press briefing slammed some people for inciting young members of the assembly to break the law.
A total of 420 people were arrested on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the youngest being a 12-year-old primary school pupil, police data showed.
Police fired 30 canisters of tear gas, 24 rubber bullets and two bean-bag rounds during the period.
On Wednesday night, police intercepted 464 people. Of this number, 287 were arrested for unlawful assembly and the rest were released several hours later.
It was understood that among those arrested were two personnel from the Fire Services Department and one from the Customs and Excise Department.?Both departments did not reply to inquiries from HKEJ as of press time.
In a statement, the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) strongly condemned the police for cordoning multiple streets during their clearance operation on Wednesday night and?dispersing journalists who ended up failing to record and monitor how officers treated those detained at the scene as a result.
The police action infringed on press freedom, the HKJA said.
In response, Kwok said the Force Media Liaison Cadre, after communicating with the frontline commander, arranged spots for reporters to do their work and allowed live broadcasts at the scene as well.
Meanwhile, Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung accused the police of mistreating him and vowed to file cases against them.
He was referring to an incident that took place at around 8 p.m. on Wednesday, when officers were containing protesters on Hennessy Road outside the Sogo department store in Causeway Bay.
Hui insisted on staying on the road to observe police enforcement and ensure that those arrested were safe.
When he refused to leave, an officer grabbed his goggles and pulled them off his face. He said he picked up the eyewear from the ground and put it back on, but the officer pulled it off again and pepper-sprayed him in the face.
Explaining what happened, Senior Superintendent Kong Wing-cheung of the PPRB said Hui refused to leave the area and return to the pavement as the officer had asked, forcing the latter to use pepper spray on him after warning him.
The officer removed Hui’s goggles so that the use of pepper spray would be effective, he said.
But Hui said in a statement that from where he was standing, he was not preventing police from carrying out their work. As such, the officer had no reason to pepper-spray him other than to give vent to his anger and prevent him from doing his job as a lawmaker.
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