Minors arrested during protests mostly victims exploited by others, HK’s deputy police chief says

07-Apr-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Many of the minors arrested during anti-government protests were goaded into taking part by online messages and were actually victims of their own poor judgment, Hong Kong’s top police operations commander told the Post in an exclusive interview.

But among the people who did deserve blame were politicians who had “exploited” youths for their own gain, Raymond Siu Chak-yee said.

Siu described his time spent on the front lines of the protests that saw riot police, armed with tear gas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds, face off against thousands of mostly young demonstrators, many carrying sharpened poles, bricks and petrol bombs. But the deputy police commissioner said he also spent hours back at the station talking to the arrested teens, trying to better understand their thinking and what drove them to take part. Siu was deeply troubled by what he heard.

Anti-government protesters clash with riot police outside Prince Edward MTR station in December last year. Photo: Edmond So

Anti-government protesters clash with riot police outside Prince Edward MTR station in December last year. Photo: Edmond So

“None of them could tell me what the protest’s demands were,” he said. “They just felt the need to participate and to fight after seeing online messages.

“This is actually very sad. A lot of them were being exploited by others to come out without realising the consequences. We indeed see them as victims. But they don’t think it matters. It is a horrifying fact. A few, more radical ones, think it is a revolution.”

Among them was a 13-year-old boy arrested in Causeway Bay for possession of offensive weapons in late 2019. Officers found spanners, knives and hammers on him. Siu asked the teen whether he was intending to damage anything, and the answer was no.

“I asked: ‘Then, why?’ He said he heeded a message to bring the weapons and hide them in some bushes for others to use. I said: ‘Have you thought why these people asked you to bring the weapons. Why didn’t they bring them themselves?’ He was quiet, then suddenly burst into tears,” Siu said.

By the end of March, police had arrested 7,929 individuals in connection to the protests. Nearly one out of five were minors, with the youngest aged 11, who was arrested for possession of offensive weapons. So far, 153 minors have been charged.

Nearly 250 individuals were arrested twice, and more than 15 were detained three times, while another two were held four times. One 17-year-old was arrested seven times for unlawful assembly.

Siu said officers found many restricted items on the youngest protesters. The teens had read online messages reassuring them the courts would be lenient towards and that a criminal record was a badge of honour, according to the deputy commander.

Some young arrestees described receiving warnings that police officers would beat, sexually assault or even murder them if they were caught, their deaths made to look like a suicide, Siu said.

One teen was arrested after joining a campaign in Tsim Sha Tsui aimed at forcing shops to close. He later told Siu he thought the owners and staff would be the victims, but then he realised his parents were sales staff as well.

Siu accused some lawmakers and politicians of encouraging teens to carry on the fight without condemning their violence.

Where is their conscience? Is their conscience clear?

Raymond Siu, deputy police commissioner, on politicians who encouraged violence

“These are irresponsible and disgraceful acts. Where is their conscience? Is their conscience clear?” he said. “Would they bring their own kids to do the same to throw petrol bombs, to vandalise shops, to attack officers? Of course not. Then why are they exploiting the kids of others?”

The protests began in June last year in response to the government’s attempt to introduce a now-withdrawn extradition bill allowing suspects to be transferred to mainland China, but the movement morphed into a campaign calling for more democracy and eventually an independent investigation into the police’s use of force. Officers have so far fired more than 16,000 rounds of tear gas and 10,000 rubber bullets. More than 5,100 Hongkongers have filed complaints involving some 1,600 cases.

Siu called accusations of “police brutality” unfair, pointing to protesters increasing use of violence, which no jurisdiction in the world would tolerate.

“They talk about human rights, but they brutally assault innocent members of the public. Do you call this human rights? When somebody holds different views from them, they attack and vandalise shops. Do you call this freedom of expression? When you talk about freedom, it has to be orderly.”

Siu said the force had started to engage different community sectors to rebuild the public’s trust, and that he was confident the effort would be successful, given the bridge-building that followed the Occupy movement in 2014.

When asked whether he regretted any decisions over the past months, the veteran officer said the force reviewed each and every operation. “As a police officer, we have to face it. Anything could happen. We just try our best to keep Hong Kong safe. I always tell myself that if you are trying your best, you will have no regrets.”




Category: Hong Kong

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