Police roll back on categorisation of HK protests as a riot, with only those who threw bricks or used metal poles now likely to face most severe charges

19-Jun-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 7:04 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong police have backed down on their categorisation of last Wednesday’s clashes with anti-extradition bill protesters as a riot after an uproar over the government’s handling contributed to an estimated 2 million people taking to the streets on Sunday.

Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo Wai-chung said on Monday that only those who threw bricks and wielded metal poles against officers during the clashes would be accused of breaching anti-rioting laws.

Those who did not commit such violent crimes would not have to worry about rioting charges, Lo said.

Police had arrested 32 people since Wednesday, including five for rioting and 10 for violent crime.

A source said the remaining 17, who committed less serious crimes, were expected to be released unconditionally.

Lo classified all clashes outside the Legislative Council after 3.30pm on Wednesday as rioting, and Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, also used the term “rioting” in a video the government released hours later on the same day.

Speaking to the press on Monday evening, Lo clarified he did not mean to accuse all protesters at the scene of rioting.

He said he had merely used the term to refer to protesters who had displayed violent behaviour outside Legco.

“Others who have participated in the same public order event but have not engaged in any violent act need not to worry in committing rioting offences,” Lo said.

Asked whether the police still framed the June 12 protest as a riot, Lo said: “It was a rioting situation… I did not say the whole event was a riot.”

He refused to apologise to peaceful protesters injured as police cleared the protest site.

“There was a rioting offence being committed… so in accordance with the level of threat we used an appropriate level of force to stop it,” Lo said.

He added that police would conduct a review and that dissatisfied members of the public could file complaints.

“We have a well-established complaints system,” he said.

Hours earlier, an adviser to Hong Kong’s embattled leader, Dr Lam Ching-choi said the government had never defined the protesters’ clashes with police on Wednesday last week as a “riot”.

Asked whether officers were adopting a more lenient approach because of political pressure, a police source said: “We understand there are concerns and that’s why we see the need to clarify more.”

It was a rioting situation… I did not say the whole event was a riot

Stephen Lo, police commissioner

While the source said those arrested for less serious offences like loitering and failure to produce identification documents were expected to be released, it would be difficult for them to adopt a lenient approach on those caught using violence.

As soon as Lo delivered his clarification that not all protesters were rioters, a few hundred protesters around the Legislative Council called for his resignation. The crowd also booed after the press conference.

Protester Venus Ng, a graphic designer, said Lo could not answer protesters’ demands that all the arrested should be released.

“If they only arrested five on suspicion of rioting, how can they justify the use of 150 rounds of tear gas against protesters?” the 26-year-old said.

“The reason we are so angry now is because these government officials only gave us official lines,” she said.

Hybrid Chan, 28, who works in the indoor decoration industry, said he believed some protesters had breached laws “to some extent”, but they should not be charged with rioting.

“We came out to protest because that’s the only thing we can do now,” Chan said.

“We tried voting but our lawmakers were disqualified. There’s nothing we can do from within the system.”



Category: Hong Kong

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