Hong Kong’s police watchdog clears officers over protests crackdown

Hong Kong’s police watchdog has largely exonerated officers for their handling of democracy protests last year.

The report said officers had acted within guidelines but called for a review of the use of tear gas.

It criticised demonstrators for complaining about police brutality while ignoring their own wrongdoing.

The report has been welcomed by the territory’s leader, Carrie Lam, but the opposition and human rights groups have dismissed it as a whitewash.

The protests started last June against plans to allow extradition to mainland China, but developed into a broader call for political change.

Clashes between police and activists became increasingly violent, with police firing live bullets and protesters attacking officers and throwing petrol bombs.

The highly-anticipated report by the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) also found no evidence of police collusion with gang members during a 21 July mob attack at a train station in Yuen Long district.

Opposition lawmakers say police inaction allowed criminals to beat up peaceful demonstrators after a rally.

Armed masked men – dressed in white shirts and suspected to be triad gangsters – assaulted pro-democracy protesters and passers-by in the area.

The IPCC did not address allegations of misconduct against individual officers during months of unrest, during which more than 8,000 protestors were arrested.

It said accusations of police brutality must not be used as “a weapon of political protest”.

Responding to the report, pro-democracy protesters and politicians said the IPCC had turned a blind eye, and insisted on an independent inquiry led by judges.

“Those who wrote this report, they simply chose to look the other way,” said pro-democracy legislator Claudia Mo.

“That’s why we have been adamant about our demand that there has to be a proper, genuine, independent inquiry into all this police brutality that’s been so blatant, so transparent in Hong Kong.”

An international panel of experts resigned from their roles as advisers to the IPCC last year, saying the body did not have the capacity to conduct a proper investigation.

But Carrie Lam insisted that the IPCC was capable of conducting an independent investigation, and has rejected calls for an independent enquiry.