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Hong Kong police face brutality claims after violent clashes over extradition bill

Protesters were met yesterday with police officers who sprayed tear gas and fired rubber bullets.

Hong Kong Extradition Law Riot police stand outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong Source: Kin Cheung

HONG KONG FACES international pressure over its divisive extradition bill which has sparked violent protests and brought the city to a standstill. 

Yesterday, police used rubber bullets and tear gas to break up crowds after demonstrators opposed to the legislation gathered near government buildings.

Protesters fear this new legislation will leave people vulnerable to China’s politicised justice system.

The police have faced criticism from a range of influential bodies including lawmakers, journalists and legal groups, with calls for an independent inquiry into “excessive force” from one legal committee.

Hong Kong’s top legal body has said police tactics to clear demonstrators may have been unlawful.

The Hong Kong Bar Association said the police “may well have overstepped its lawful powers” with “wholly unnecessary force against largely unarmed protesters who did not appear to pose any immediate threat to the police or the public”.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association said it had received more than 15 complaints from reporters – including some who say they were targeted with pepper spray – and called for more witness accounts from reporters of any abuses by police. 

Police chief Stephen Lo defended his officers yesterday, however, saying they had shown restraint until “mobsters” tried to storm parliament. 

“These violent protesters kept charging at our line of defence, and used very dangerous weapons, including… throwing metal barricades at us and throwing bricks,” he said.

Defiant group

Meanwhile, the European Union has also called for the “fundamental right” of Hong Kong citizens to assemble and express themselves to be respected as it became the latest grouping to add its voice to a growing chorus of criticism of the bill.

The EU “shares many of the concerns raised by citizens of Hong Kong regarding the government’s proposed extradition reforms”, it said in a statement. 

The EU said the proposed law had “potentially far-reaching consequences for Hong Kong and its people, for EU and foreign citizens, as well as for business confidence in Hong Kong”.

Demonstrators who surrounded the city’s Legislative Council – its government – yesterday forced a postponement of the next reading of the bill.

But Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam has shown no signs of backing down, and said the protests were “organised riots”.

Yesterday’s violence left 79 people hurt, with two in a serious condition, in the worst political unrest since Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997.

A defiant group of a few hundred protesters have gathered today in a central park and chanted abuse at a line of police.

As police started to pack away some of the barricades, some young people returned to help clear up the mess, with umbrellas, water bottles and assorted rubbish littering the streets where protesters had squared off against police the day before.

Activists remained vocal on social media and online groups, however, vowing to be back for more protests in the future.

‘Excessive force’

Meanwhile, encrypted messaging service Telegram suffered a major cyber-attack that appeared to originate from China, the company’s CEO said today, linking it to the ongoing political unrest in Hong Kong.

Many protesters in the city have used Telegram to evade electronic surveillance and coordinate their demonstrations against the controversial Beijing-backed plan that would allow extraditions from the semi-autonomous territory to the mainland.

Telegram announced late yesterday that it was suffering a “powerful” Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, which involves a hacker overwhelming a target’s servers by making a massive number of junk requests.

It warned users in many regions may face connection issues.

Telegram later announced on Twitter that its service had stabilised. It also posted a series of tweets explaining the nature of the attack.

© – AFP 2019

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