In response to the use of force against largely peaceful protestors by Hong Kong police, who used tear gas, guns firing bean bags and rubber bullets, batons and pepper spray to disperse a demonstration against the extradition bill in central Hong Kong on Wednesday, Man-Kei Tam, Director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, commented:
“The ugly scenes of police using tear gas and pepper spray against overwhelmingly peaceful protesters is a violation of international law. Police have a duty to maintain public order, but in doing so they may use force only when strictly necessary. Hong Kong’s police have today failed to live up to this standard.
“The police have taken advantage of the violent acts of a small minority as a pretext to use excessive force against the vast majority of peaceful protesters.
“Tear gas and projectiles like rubber bullets are notoriously inaccurate and indiscriminate and can result in serious injury and even death. They should only ever be used in a targeted response to specific acts of violence and never to disperse peaceful protesters.
“This excessive response from police is fuelling tensions and is likely to contribute to worsening violence, rather than end it. We urge the Hong Kong police not to repeat such abuses against peaceful protesters, and instead ensure people can legitimately exercise their rights. We also remind police that using force against protesters already brought under control is unlawful.”
On Wednesday, thousands of protesters in Hong Kong took over streets around the city’s government headquarters to demand that the Hong Kong government withdraw proposed amendments to the extradition law. Police started dispersing protesters in the afternoon, using tear gas and pepper spray, and in some instances guns firing bean bags and rubber bullets. Some protesters were taken away by police.
While the afternoon saw increasing clashes between front-line police and protesters in some locations, the tear gas deployed by police affected areas far beyond those skirmishes, where no violence had taken place at all. The impact was compounded by the fact that some escape routes had been blocked off by police, limiting opportunities for demonstrators to get out of harm’s way.
The proposed law changes to expand extradition arrangements would have the effect of enabling the handover of persons in the territory of Hong Kong to mainland China. If enacted, this law would extend the ability of the mainland authorities to target critics, human rights activists, journalists, NGO workers and anyone else in Hong Kong. Amnesty International Hong Kong joined more than 70 other NGOs in a joint letter to Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, calling for the proposed extradition law amendments to be dropped because they pose a direct threat to human rights.