SCMP Friday, October 6, 2000

Protesters troublemakers: police


A confidential internal police report labelling demonstrators as "troublemakers" has been condemned as inflammatory by student leaders, a legislator and right-of-abode protesters.
The description was used in a monthly report on police morale circulated to senior ranks - chief superintendents or above - a copy of which has been seen by the South China Morning Post.
The report said the arrest of seven university students after a June 26 protest outside government offices was "supported by all officers".
"This will restore confidence in officers who are required to deal with similar incidents in the future. Some officers feel that the failure to immediately arrest troublemakers was indicative of a lack of support for front-line officers," the report circulated on September 14 said.
"Some officers are concerned about the increasing hostility of protesters who have openly challenged front-line officers deployed to control their demonstrations."
Police used pepper spray against protesters and television footage showed a student being punched, leading to accusations of excessive force.
The report said officers welcomed the "no-nonsense speech" by Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who had declared students should not put themselves above the law.
Mrs Ip is on the report's circulation list, which goes to about 80 top police officers and key senior civil servants. It is sent out in memo form from the Commissioner of Police and signed under his title by Leung Lau-on, chief superintendent of the staff relations and conditions of service branch.
It is compiled from monthly morale reports submitted by stations and units. Senior officers use its contents to brief inspectors, who then pass on key points to rank-and-file officers.
"There is widespread appreciation, support and sympathy for officers of Wan Chai and Central districts who bear the brunt of policing these frequent and often unpleasant demonstrations," it said.
But the association representing rank-and-file officers appears to contradict the report's claim that the decision to arrest and consider charging the seven protesters was supported by all, saying the report did not represent a "force-wide view".
The chairman of the Junior Police Officers' Association, Lau Kam-wah, said the report seemed to reflect the views of officers stationed at Central and Wan Chai, who handle most demonstrations.
He said he could not comment on the leaked document but added the association had its own views about the handling of the June 26 protests at the Central Government Offices in Lower Albert Road, Central.
The operation was organised "not quite well" and some senior officers had to take responsibility for its planning.
Senior police had to ensure adequate planning was carried out to ensure problems did not arise, said Mr Lau, a station sergeant.
He said officers were under a lot of pressure because they were caught between the protesters and the Government.
Mr Lau said police were not always opposed to the demonstrations. "I can say that, with some students, their views are sometimes shared by our officers," he said.
He would not comment on the Public Order Ordinance, which requires demonstrators to apply to police before holding a gathering.
Legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing condemned the leaked report as "inflammatory".
"I think it's very unfortunate that they have tried to shift the blame," she said, referring to the June 26 protests, following which legislators criticised police tactics.
Ms Lau, of The Frontier, said the report's language could lead to heightened tensions between police and protesters.
"It is unfortunate that they are putting things in such a context and it will make relations much more difficult."
A representative of abode-seekers, Jackie Hung Ling-yu, said the report showed discrimination against protesters was coming from within police ranks as well as from senior government officials such as Mrs Ip.
"They also see the protesters as troublemakers," she said. "I also see that they are not prepared to co-operate with us any more," said Ms Hung, project officer with the Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese.
She feared violence would escalate, particularly after the Court of Appeal hears a challenge from 5,000 mainland right-of-abode seekers next month who want permission to remain in the SAR.
University of Hong Kong student union president Gloria Chang Wan-ki, one of those arrested, said the choice of words was "quite aggressive" and was worried it could inflame tensions.
Charges are still being considered against the seven students arrested for the June 26 protest, but the Department of Justice said yesterday five of those students also accused over an April 20 protest about tuition fees would not face charges.