A senior officer in Hong Kong’s police department said that officers used “appropriate force” in a video circulating on social media showing a protester bleeding profusely from the face while being crushed into the ground by multiple officers and emphatically stating he was not resisting arrest, the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) reported on Friday.
The HKFP first circulated the video of the protester, who says in the tape that his name is Chow Ka-lok, in mid-August during an increasingly typical police attack on protesters. The video revealed that police had now begun to disguise themselves among the protesters by wearing black shirts and gas masks. One of the officers seen beating Chow in the video repeatedly asserts, “I’m on your side.”
“Assuming the video has not been edited, what I saw was that the baton did not strike his head. The baton could have hit the ground, and so on,” Steve Li, senior superintendent from the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau, told a reporter who asked if law enforcement would condemn the video. “I have seen [the video] in slow-motion, I have seen it many times. Sometimes it is like that: when different people watch it, they see different things.”
Li insisted that the officers did not beat Chow and that they were using their batons to beat the ground near Chow’s head.
The HKFP noted that Li had previously said that he believed the officers “used appropriate force to subdue the man and conduct the arrest” shortly after the video appeared online on August 11.
The video, shot by a journalist repeatedly pushed back by police, shows a man on the ground with his head pressed down. A police officer uses the entirety of his leg and hand to crush the protester’s head and neck. The protester, bleeding profusely, yells “I don’t understand” and “my front tooth is broken … my front tooth has fallen office.”
“My name is Chow Ka-lok and I want a lawyer,” he says, while police yell “don’t resist” and antagonize reporters recording the scene. At least two of the officers arresting him are disguised as protesters, with no clear indication that they are legally members of law enforcement.
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Citing Apple Daily, a pro-democracy newspaper, HKFP reports that Chow “had chips on both his front teeth and needed stitches on his right eyelid and the bridge of his nose.” He is facing prosecution for “assaulting a police officer.”
The incident has become emblematic of the increased use of violence to subdue unarmed, peaceful protesters three months into the pro-democracy movement. Li’s refusal to accept that the video shows police brutality occurred as a new report of a woman being bludgeoned in the head for wearing black – the color of the protest movement – in the wrong place has surfaced.
The South China Morning Post published an interview Friday with a woman named Rachel Smyth, who said she was in a Mass Transit Rail (MTR) station in Siu Hong late Sunday when officers mistook her for a protester and beat her severely, leaving her with four stitches in the head. She hid at the top of a staircase to watch an altercation between local residents and riot police when, she told the SCMP, the police stormed towards the staircase and several officers grabbed her and assaulted her.
They started beating my head, at least five times [on my whole body] … my head actually started bleeding. I saw the blood splattering on the steps,” she said. “The police were so angry and they just used me as a way to release their anger. That’s what it felt like.”
Smyth says she is not a protester and was not in any way acting in a threatening or concerning way when she was assaulted.
Smyth’s story corresponds to an anonymous report in Apple Daily on Wednesday of a woman at the same station being beaten and needing four stitches. At the time of the publication of that report, the victim was keeping her identity private.
In yet another case of violence against the pro-democracy movement this week, two unknown men attempted to firebomb the home of Apple Daily owner Jimmy Lai, but ultimately threw their Molotov cocktails onto a driveway, causing no damage. The incident was at least the second time attackers have targeted Lai’s home with bombs.
Lai, a Chinese refugee who has become a regular at the pro-democracy protests, has vowed to continue advocating for freedom against the growing threat of a Communist Party takeover and predicted he was far from alone.
“A lot of young people in this movement are prepared to die,” Lai told Bloomberg the day after the attack. “This movement is not just a movement of resistance against dictatorship. It is a movement of martyrdom.”
The current protest movement arose in early June in response to a proposed law that would have allowed the Chinese Communist Party to extradite anyone in Hong Kong accused of being a criminal. Protesters noted that giving Beijing the ability to punish people for breaking its laws outside its borders would violate the governing “One Country, Two Systems” policy.
In response to the extreme political abuses and police brutality the protesters have faced since, they adjusted their movement to focus on five key demands: a full withdrawal of the extradition bill, freedom for political prisoners, an end to calling the protests “riots,” direct election of lawmakers, and an independent probe to document and punish police brutality.
On Wednesday, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced the full withdrawal of the extradition bill, insisting she would not adhere to any of the other demands and further protests would be treated as “riots.”
Under the slogan “Five key demands, not one less,” the protester movement has vowed to continue and has organized more assemblies for this weekend.