Undercover cops in radical ranks

Top News | Cindy Wan and Phoenix Un 13 Aug 2019

Undercover police officers have been infiltrating the ranks of demonstrators to investigate "radical protesters" since June, Deputy Commissioner Chris Tang Ping-keung admitted yesterday.

The admission followed outrage over news footage showing black-clad men and women helping to arrest protesters on Hennessy Road in Causeway Bay on Sunday night.

They refused to answer when asked by reporters whether they were policemen and were escorted away by uniformed officers before leaving in a van.

Tang, who heads the operations branch, said the undercover officers have arrested 15 "core radical protesters" who used potentially "lethal weapons" in Causeway Bay.

In total, 110 men and 38 women aged 15 to 53 were arrested for unlawful assembly, obstructing officers in the performance of their duties, assaulting police, possession of offensive weapons and other criminal offenses. A total of 54 people were injured, with 34 still in hospitals by 8pm yesterday.

Tang said the undercover officers assumed "different characters who could appear in the protest zones." They also contacted the core protesters and searched for evidence of crimes during normal days.

"I can assure you that the undercover police did not commit criminal offenses or instigate others to commit crimes," he said.

Tang denied police are trying to spread white terror, saying the intelligence operation would only be conducted against radical protesters "who inflicted violence and used lethal weapons such as petrol bombs."

Police, however, could not ascertain how a woman had her right eyeball ruptured by a beanbag round outside Tsim Sha Tsui police station in an incident that also happened on Sunday.

Assistant Commissioner Mak Chin-ho said it could be a bean bag round from police or a steel bead shot by protesters.

Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu said the force had received no report about the injured woman.

"Some said it happened during the process of law enforcement, while others said it's not caused by police action."

Lee also dismissed allegations that the undercover officers might initiate violence as cops "won't do anything to violate the law during operations, and they won't take part in such behavior."

Police also defended an officer's firing of pepper balls at fleeing protesters within arm's reach, causing people to fall down from an escalator in the MTR Tai Koo Station.

Public relations chief superintendent Tse Chun-chung said the pepper ball launcher can be used at close distance and in confined spaces. His colleague, senior superintendent Kong Wing-cheung, admitted one tear gas cylinder was fired into Kwai Fong Station on Sunday while dispersing a crowd among whom were people using catapults with steel beads.

Emergency-unit officers with New Territories South district decided the use was appropriate in the semi-open area of the station, he said. Mak said the tear-gas cylinders had expired and that they would only cause milder effects, not produce toxic chemicals such as cyanide as rumored.

Officers were captured in news footage putting a sharp bamboo stick into a protester's backpack when searching his belongings in Causeway Bay.

None of the officers have been suspended from their duties, but police will review operational procedures.

"If we suspend them from duty only because of the allegations, we may need to suspend half of the members of the force," said Li Kwai-wah, senior superintendent of Organized Crime and Triad Bureau.

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