By Hillary Leung / Hong Kong
September 20, 2019

Amnesty International on Friday accused Hong Kong police of employing “reckless and indiscriminate tactics” against protesters in what amounts to an alarming pattern of abuse, and called for an independent investigation.

In a new report, Amnesty documented a series of arbitrary arrests and retaliatory violence against pro-democracy protesters held in custody, some of which, it said, amounted to torture.

“The evidence leaves little room for doubt—in an apparent thirst for retaliation, Hong Kong’s security forces have engaged in a disturbing pattern of reckless and unlawful tactics against people during the protests,” said Nicholas Bequelin, East Asia Director at Amnesty International.

The police’s use of force, Bequelin added, is “clearly excessive, violating international human rights law.”

One of the key demands of the protests that have rocked the semi-autonomous Chinese enclave for three months has been an independent inquiry into the police response. While protesters have repeatedly accused the force of exercising excessive violence, the city’s embattled leader Carrie Lam has defended the police and resisted calls for independent accountability measures.

In preparing its report, Amnesty spoke with 48 people, including arrested protesters who shared accounts of being severely beaten and suffering other ill-treatment at the hands of police. One detainee said that after he refused to answer a question he was taken to another room where several officers attacked him and threatened to break his hands.

Another said he saw officers force a boy to shine a laser pen into his own eye in what appeared to be retribution for protesters’ use of laser pointers during the demonstrations.

Protesters spoke of similarly heavy-handed tactics at the time of arrest. One man was hospitalized with a fractured rib, among other injuries, after police pinned him to the ground and attacked him until he had difficulty breathing, Amnesty’s report said.

The human rights group also found police denied protesters held in custody access to lawyers and medical care.

In response to the report, Hong Kong police said it has respected the dignity, privacy and rights of those detained, according to local media. The police encouraged anyone who disagrees to file a complaint.

According to the police tally released Friday, over 1,400 people have been arrested since the protests began in June in response to a controversial extradition bill that would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to mainland China. The city’s leader withdrew the bill at the start of this month, but many chastised the concession as coming too late.

Amnesty’s report follows similar allegations against the police made by activists Denise Ho and Joshua Wong when they testified before the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China earlier this week.

“Given the pervasiveness of the abuses we found, it is clear that the Hong Kong Police Force is no longer in a position to investigate itself,” Bequelin said. “Amnesty International is urgently calling for an independent, impartial investigation aimed at delivering prosecutions, justice and reparation.”

Write to Hillary Leung at hillary.leung@time.com.

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