Police commissioner backs off from labeling Wednesday’s anti-extradition protest a ‘riot’

Police Commissioner Stephen Lo addressing reporters last night. Screengrab via Facebook.
Police Commissioner Stephen Lo addressing reporters last night. Screengrab via Facebook.

Hong Kong’s police chief has sought to walk back his characterization of last Wednesday’s chaotic protest in Admiralty as a “riot” — one of the demands of the hundreds of thousands who returned to the streets on Sunday — acknowledging in a press conference that most of the protesters were peaceful.

Police Commissioner Stephen Lo told reporters last night that the vast majority of protesters “expressed their opinion in a peaceful and rational manner,” adding that only those who had attacked frontline officers with metal poles and bricks would be accused of rioting.

“There was a lot of discussion ongoing of the term ‘riot’ that I have used in the press conference to describe the situation. I want to clarify what I said on that day,” he said. “What I meant is that the behavior displayed by some protesters might have committed rioting offense, as such, those others who have participated in the same public order event but have not engaged in any violent acts need not worry of committing a rioting offense.”

He told reporters that of the 32 people they have arrested since Wednesday’s protest, only five were arrested on suspicion of rioting, 15 were arrested for violent offenses, and 17 were arrested for committing “other crimes” that include loitering, failing to produce ID, and “possession of equipment for illegal purposes.”

Lo dodged questions as to whether or not he would apologize for calling protesters rioters.

The characterization of Wednesday’s demonstration as a riot had prompted anger among opponents of the controversial extradition bill at the center of the demonstration. Even after Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced the suspension of the bill days after the protest, more than a million Hongkongers on Sunday choked streets from Causeway Bay to Admiralty to demand, among other things, that the government retract the “riot” label.

The police’s heavy-handed response to Wednesday’s demonstration, meanwhile, has drawn widespread criticism. Despite Lo’s belated contention that only a handful of people had actually rioted, police at the scene used 150 tear gas rounds, rubber bullets, bean bag rounds, and batons to forcibly disperse the thousands-strong crowd, which had occupied several roads around Admiralty.

This disparity between the police’s newly revised number of rioters — five — and the enormity of the response drew both incredulity and ridicule online.

Lo said that police would be conducting a thorough review of their actions following more than 30 official complaints of excessive force.

Lo’s press briefing began one hour after the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association announced that they too had filed a complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, and have called for the IPCC to investigate instances of officers abusing members of the press on Wednesday.

Those instances included firing tear gas rounds at journalists at close range, striking reporters with batons, and obstructing journalists from carrying out their reporting.

Press Release:HKJA lodged a complaint to IPCC concerning abuses against the press by police officers and call for…

香港記者協會 Hong Kong Journalists Association 发布于 2019年6月17日周一

Lingering outrage over last Wednesday’s demonstration likely boosted turnout at Sunday’s march, which by any measure was the largest Hong Kong has ever seen. Organizers put the headcount at just under two million people, while police, who often give vastly lower figures, put it at around 340,000.

Marchers demanded the authorities fully withdraw the extradition bill — which would allow renditions to mainland China — and called on Chief Executive Lam to apologize for police’s use of force, and to step down.

Although most of Sunday’s protesters had dispersed by Monday morning, some stayed put in Tamar Park, and at 3pm yesterday afternoon, hundreds marched to the chief executive’s office demanding a direct dialogue with the city’s leader.

According to reports from the scene, as of this morning Lung Wo Road had reopened after protesters occupied it yesterday.

https://twitter.com/HongKongFP/status/1140792064994492418

Meanwhile, Chief Executive Lam is expected to address the press today. This morning, the pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao ran an editorial saying Lam was expected to announce the full withdrawal of the extradition bill, and to make another, full apology.

However, within hours, the editorial had been pulled down.

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