Hong Kong people skeptical about probe into police brutality

British government cannot ensure the security of those who reveal sensitive information, activists say
Hong Kong people skeptical about probe into police brutality

Office workers and protesters gather during a pro-democracy demonstration in a mall in the central district of Hong Kong on Feb. 21. (Photo: Isaac Lawrence/AFP)

Rights activists in Hong Kong, including some church people, are skeptical about the effectiveness of a British parliamentary investigation into police using excessive force on pro-democracy protesters in the city.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong on March 10 launched a probe into police brutality on the mostly young people who have been protesting for democracy in the former British colony.

People in Hong Kong do not expect much from the British inquiry for various reasons, said Jackie Hung of the Justice and Peace Commission of Hong Kong Diocese.

"There is no guarantee that the British government can ensure the security of those who reveal sensitive information on recent riots," Hung told UCA News.

She said it was ironic to see a British investigation 22 years after Britain handed over the territory to China. 

China took over the administration of Hong Kong, agreeing to respect the democratic freedom of the island city-state under a "one country, two systems" method. 

Protesters say China increasingly took measures to block people's democratic rights and freedom in the past two decades, forcing them to protest on the streets since June last year.

The Beijing-backed administration used brutal police force to suppress the protests, resulting in several violent clashes over the past nine months that claimed at least one life and injured hundreds.

The massive protests that blocked city streets on weekends have subsided since February when the coronavirus began to spread in the city from China. However, both protests and police actions continue in a subdued form.

For example, the media showed seven police officers stopping an alleged protester in a parking lot on March 8 and intimidating him with physical movements and verbally abusing him. 

'Police use colonial law'

Hong Kong police base their actions on the colonial Public Order Ordinance (POO), which has drawn flak from the United Nations as it was inconsistent with international human rights standards.

The ordinance was passed by the British colonial government in 1967 to quell pro-communist protests in Hong Kong.

"I hope they [Britain] make a sincere apology to Hong Kong citizens about the POO," Hung said.

Agatha, a young Catholic who has taken part in the student-led pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, said she was concerned about the UK group insisting on a personal undertaking from individual participants in the fact-finding panel.

The group reportedly wants individuals to act as oral witnesses in a closed-door session at the UK parliament to find out whether the Hong Kong police breached the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.

The declaration, an international treaty registered with the United Nations, provides Britain with a moral and legal obligation to protect human rights in Hong Kong, the UK claims. 

China, which took over Hong Kong in 1997, has declared the pact null many times.  

Rights groups and pro-democracy politicians allege that the current complaints system adds up to the police investigating complaints against themselves.

"There is a lot of information available on social media about human rights violations by the Hong Kong police. I do not believe the British probe helps Hong Kong people," 24-year-old Agatha added.

'Ineffective probe'

The UK parliamentary team is expected to submit its report to the British prime minister, but people like Hung do not expect much from the exercise. "But it's better than having nothing," she added.

British parliamentarians have several similar cross-party groups, which have no official status within parliament. They are run by members to discuss issues of countries of their interest and advise the British government.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong was launched in January "to promote democracy and the rule of law, and to defend human rights in Hong Kong." It also aims "to share information about Hong Kong and to nurture relations between the United Kingdom and the people of Hong Kong," its website said.

The group was formed amid an "acute political and social crisis" in Hong Kong when the Hong Kong police and civilians began to clash. Since April 2019, more than 4,500 people have been arrested, 750 of whom are children, the group said on its website.

"We do not have a representative government in Hong Kong since the British left. The chief executive of Hong Kong is elected by a committee comprising just 1,200 people," Hung said.

Under such a situation, "I do not have many expectations from the British investigation," she added, indicating that the UK government has no democratic counterpart in Hong Kong. 

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