A man was arrested over accusations of assault and possession of an offensive weapon yesterday afternoon after allegedly capturing two plainclothes cops on camera while photographing a Sham Shui Po eatery — a case one district councillor was quick to decry as an “arbitrary arrest.”
Police told Stand News that the suspect, a 23-year-old surnamed Ho, was taken to a police station for further investigation, claiming he shined a flashlight at the officers. However, eyewitness accounts and a video from the scene suggest the confrontation with the officers had more to do with Ho snapping photos.
Witnesses told Stand News that the two off-duty police officers abruptly intercepted Ho as he was taking pictures of the Dragon Centre mall food court after ordering at a food stall called Kobe Dining, a reputed “blue” business.
A video posted to Facebook appeared to capture at least some of the interaction, showing the officers grabbing Ho then cornering him against a wall.
“Is it illegal for me to take a picture?” Ho asks the men, one of whom claims Ho invaded his privacy by taking his photo.
Despite showing the two men his phone in an attempt to prove he hadn’t photographed their faces, one of them can be heard saying, “You caught me on camera.”
After other diners begin to demand the two men prove that they are police officers, one of them quickly flashes his warrant card.
“One of them just roughly showed his warrant card in the blink of an eye, so you can’t check the validity of the card,” one witness said.
The officers then tell Ho that he will be detained and the contents of his mobile phone will be examined.
Police said they found a seven-inch flashlight — the purported “offensive weapon” — among Ho’s belongings, and that the case had been forwarded to the West Kowloon District’s Crime Unit. (Police have taken an expansive definition of offensive weapon after months of protests, with a student leader arrested over a laser pointer last year, and a 16-year-old boy convicted for having a similar device in November.)
Sham Shui Po district councillor Leos Lee Man-ho, who has been following Ho’s case closely, said that Ho was arrested at around 3pm yesterday, and was later sent to Caritas Hospital after he said he felt unwell.
In a Facebook post, Lee added that Ho’s father alleged his son had been hit in the nose and the lower part of his body by police officers while in detention.
“Taking pictures is not illegal, it is an arbitrary arrest,” Lee said in the post.
In an interview, Lee told Coconuts HK that Ho was still in hospital as of today, and again criticized the arrest.
“The police seem to hold a grudge against young people,” he said.
Barrister Anson Wong Yu-yat told Coconuts HK today that arresting someone for taking photos was legally suspect, even in light of a court injunction forbidding identifying police officers — or even photographing them — imposed over fears of doxxing.
“If Ho’s action contains elements of holding the court in contempt, then his action will be considered illegal,” Wong said. “However, his case doesn’t show that.”
Reporting by Erin Chan.