Police detain a group of people after a pro-democracy march in Hong Kong on Jan. 1. (Photo: Isaac Lawrence/AFP)
Leading Catholics have joined a call from politicians and other top civic figures from 18 countries in urging the Hong Kong government to halt police brutality against anti-government protesters.
In an open letter to Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, they urged her to establish an independent inquiry into police use of force against the protesters, warning they would seek the setting up of an independent international probe if she did not.
Among the Catholics who signed the letter was Cardinal Charles Bo from Myanmar in his capacity as president of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, British peer Lord Alton and Dr. John Dayal, former president of the All India Catholic Union and current secretary-general of the All India Christian Council.
They were among 40 signatories of the open letter, who also included former British foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind, Alissa Wahid, daughter of late Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid, as well as politicians and civic leaders from Canada, Australia, the United States and Europe.
They urged Lam to ease tensions by talking to the protesters and listening to their demands.
Those who signed the letter said they were “horrified” by violent police actions against peaceful protesters and innocent bystanders during and after the Christmas period.
“We are profoundly disturbed by scenes of children and young people being severely beaten and of rubber bullets being fired into people’s faces,” the letter said.
The protests started in June against plans to allow criminal suspects being extradited to mainland China but have morphed into calls for greater democracy and an inquiry into police actions following the scrapping of the extradition plan in September.
“We appeal to you to use your authority and exercise your responsibility to seek genuine ways forward out of this crisis by addressing the grievances of Hong Kong people, bringing the Hong Kong Police Force under control, ensuring accountability and an end to impunity for serious violations of human rights, and beginning a process of democratic political reform,” the letter urged Lam.
It also called on her to agree to the protesters' demands for an independent inquiry. “Should you continue to reject this idea, we call on the international community to establish an international, independent inquiry mechanism,” the letter said.
It also raised the prospect of US sanctions being slapped on Lam and other Hong Kong officials if they are found responsible for committing human rights violations, by pointing to the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which allows Washington to place sanctions on foreign officials accused of rights abuses.
A Hong Kong government spokesman dismissed the “unfounded and misguided” claims on Jan. 1.
"We are gravely concerned that the claims in their letter are biased and misleading. The HKSAR government must rebut them to ensure they truly understand the extent of violence by radical protesters and the attacks they have made on the police and citizens," the spokesman said.
He claimed officers had adhered to international human rights standards when using force against the protesters.
“The actions and response of police over the Christmas period, and at all times over the past six months, were only in response to the blatant disregard for public safety and order by radical protesters,” he said.