HONG KONG (Reuters) - Amnesty International accused Hong Kong police on Friday of torture and other abuses in their handling of more than three months of pro-democracy protests, but the police say they have shown restraint on the street in the face of increased violence.
Anti-government protesters, many masked and wearing black, have thrown petrol bombs at police and central government offices, stormed the Legislative Council, blocked roads to the airport, trashed metro stations and lit fires on the streets of the Chinese-ruled city.
Police have responded with tear gas, water cannon, rubber bullets, bean bag rounds and several live rounds fired in the air, warning the crowds beforehand with a series of different colored banners.
They have also been seen beating protesters on the ground with batons, with footage of one such attack on cowering passengers on an MTR subway train going viral online and prompting widespread anger.
Amnesty said a field investigation had documented “an alarming pattern of the Hong Kong Police Force deploying reckless and indiscriminate tactics, including while arresting people at protests, as well as exclusive evidence of torture and other ill-treatment in detention”.
“The Hong Kong police’s heavy-handed crowd-control response on the streets has been livestreamed for the world to see. Much less visible is the plethora of police abuses against protesters that take place out of sight,” said Nicholas Bequelin, East Asia director at Amnesty International, in a report.
“The evidence leaves little room for doubt – in an apparent thirst for retaliation, Hong Kong’s security forces have engaged in a disturbing pattern of reckless and unlawful tactics against people during the protests. This has included arbitrary arrests and retaliatory violence against arrested persons in custody, some of which has amounted to torture.”
One such act of retaliation was to shine green lasers into the eyes of detainees, Amnesty said, employing a tactic used by many protesters against police.
Released just after midnight in Hong Kong (1601 GMT on Thursday), the Amnesty report did not give the chance for police to respond immediately. But police have said they have been restrained in their use of force on the streets.
“Since June, the protests in Hong Kong have been increasingly tense with an escalation of violence,” they said on their Facebook page earlier.
“In various districts, protesters committed extensive destructive acts such as hurling petrol bombs, setting fires and paralyzing traffic. In face of the lawless and illegal acts of the protesters, police always exercise a high level of restraint and endeavor to restore public order and to protect the safety of the general public.”
They said nearly 240 police had been wounded in the protests.
In a direct challenge to Communist Party rulers in Beijing, some protesters on Sunday threw bricks at police outside the Chinese People’s Liberation Army base and set fire to a red banner proclaiming the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
The police subsequently issued a statement saying they would “continue to take resolute enforcement actions so as to safeguard the city’s public safety and bring all lawbreakers to justice.”
Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that ensures freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including right of assembly and an independent judiciary.
Demonstrators are angry about what they see as creeping interference by Beijing despite the promise of autonomy.
The spark for the latest protests in June was planned legislation, now withdrawn, that would have allowed people accused of breaking Chinese laws to be sent to the mainland for trial.
But they have since broadened into calls for universal suffrage, including an independent inquiry into perceived police brutality.
China says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” arrangement and denies interfering. It has accused foreign powers, particularly the United States and Britain, of fomenting the unrest and told them to mind their own business.