HONG KONG — A group of foreign experts hired to give more credibility to Hong Kong’s police watchdog while it investigated accusations of brutality has quit over the agency’s lack of powers, dealing a blow to the government.
The experts said in a statement they would “formally stand aside” after concluding that the city’s police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Council, had limited authority to conduct independent investigations.
The protest movement has called for a judge-led independent commission to review the police’s conduct, a demand that draws broad public support. Critics say the council, which is stacked with conservative figures and unable to summon witnesses, is toothless.
The government and the police force have rejected the protesters’ demand, saying the watchdog would suffice. The watchdog hired the international panel, which included policing experts from Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, in early September to try to give the probe more credibility.
The foreign experts said last month that the council needed the power to subpoena witnesses and verify the police’s version of events. The experts said on Wednesday that without such authority, the inquiry would not meet the public’s expectations “of a police watchdog operating in a society that values freedoms and rights.”
The watchdog had earlier rejected the foreign experts’ recommendations, with the council’s chairman, Anthony Neoh, saying in an interview with the Chinese news media that the experts did not understand Hong Kong’s laws.
Pro-democracy lawmakers said the panel’s decision to pull out of the investigation only served to support the public’s demands.
“The whole incident has become an international laughingstock,” Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy lawmaker, told reporters on Wednesday. She said the government thought seeking foreign expertise “could rationalize their irrational state of affairs, but now the opposite has happened.”
The council is expected to deliver a preliminary report on its findings in January. Tanya Chan, an opposition lawmaker, said the experts’ resignations amounted to a “vote of no confidence” on the investigation. She urged Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s beleaguered leader, to persuade Beijing to support an independent investigation when she meets with Chinese leaders this weekend.
The police have fired nearly 16,000 rounds of tear gas and 10,000 rubber bullets since the protests began in June over a now-withdrawn bill that would have allowed extraditions to China. The heavy use of tear gas, including in densely populated residential neighborhoods, has prompted public health and environmental concerns. More than 6,000 people between the ages of 11 and 84 have been arrested in the continuing unrest.
The police have faced increasing condemnation after being accused of failing to quickly respond to a mob attack on antigovernment protesters in late July in the northern district of Yuen Long. In late August, riot police officers charged onto a subway train, fired pepper spray and beat people in the carriage, further tarnishing the force’s image.
Hundreds of thousands of people poured onto the streets on Sunday, six months into the movement, in one of the largest marches in weeks to pressure the government to meet demands for greater civil liberties and police accountability.
But Mrs. Lam has refused to make any further concessions, raising the prospect that the demonstrations could continue for the foreseeable future.
Tensions in Hong Kong eased somewhat after the pro-democracy camp scored a stunning victory in local elections last month, but the police say they are increasingly concerned about the threat of violence. The force said officers had found two homemade bombs containing about 22 pounds of explosives near a high school a day after Sunday’s protest.
Ezra Cheung contributed reporting.
Published at Wed, 11 Dec 2019 00:08:00 +0000