Protestors Pepper-sprayed Contrary to a Deal with Police ?
26 June 2000
Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor is very concerned about the confrontation between the police and students from the Hong Kong Federation of Students and right of abode claimants this morning outside the Central Government Office (CGO). We are handling a complaint made by student representatives and referred to us by a Legislative Councillor's office.
The students and right of abode claimants assembled near the Court of Final Appeal after their march from Immigration Tower yesterday. They were protesting against the National People's Congress Standing Committee's reinterpretation of the Basic Law made at 26 June last year. The police refused to allow the protesters to assembly outside CGO, but they were allowed to stay around the Court of Final Appeal. We understand that it rained last night and the students and right of abode claimants went to the covered area at the entrance to the CGO West Wing around mid-night to seek shelter from the rain. Some of them were allowed in although after that the gate was shut. We appreciate that the police allowed them to take cover without obstruction and that the protesters stayed there peacefully.
Unfortunately, the police dispersed the protesters using pepper spray this morning, allegedly in contravention of an agreement reached by both sides a bit earlier. As far as we know, protesters were willing to go into "designated demonstration areas" to avoid obstructing the CGO doorway as requested by the police. This agreement was allegedly breached by the police while the protesters were moving to the demonstration areas. The protesters were stopped and pepper spray was used to disperse them. The students lodged a complaint to Human Rights Monitor against the police.
If the allegation is true, we consider the police's refusal to allow the demonstrators to move to the "designated demonstration area" after the agreement to be at least a mal-administration if not a violation of the protesters' legitimate right to protest under the principle of reasonable expectation. This is not to mention the equal right of everyone to demonstrate in front of the CGO, in particular at those sites at the entrance to the Main Wing of the Government Headquarters.
Human Rights Monitor finds it especially disturbing that the police chose to stop the protesters from going to the "designated demonstration areas" in front of the Main Wing of the Government Headquarters, while the police did not impose such a restriction on other demonstrations yesterday. We understand that there are police guidelines to facilitate demonstrations. In particular, the police should work on the assumption that protestors just want to exercise their rights to demonstrate unless there are strong evidence to the contrary. The decision to stop these peaceful protesters from demonstrating at places where other demonstrators have had access is a prima facie case of discrimination against the Hong Kong Federation of Students and the right of abode claimants.
The use of pepper spray was a form of violence or force against the protesters. Force may only be used when it is strictly necessary. The police owe the public and the protestors an explanation of why they needed to use such force against these protestors. If the police acted lawfully in stopping these demonstrators then they should have used only minimal force, which in the past usually meant the use of human cordons and barricades.
Human Rights Monitor will keep an eye on whether pepper spray is used more widely in policing demonstrations. We want to remind the police not to use pepper spray lightly or in an arbitrary manner. Although pepper spray will not normally result in permanent injury to its victims it is still a serious form of force and usually causes extreme pain to the victims. In certain cases it results in serious harm. Police officers may also suffer if they are accidentally sprayed.
We urge the police to explain what happened. In particular we would like to know whether there was any agreement with the protesters. If so, then why were the protesters stopped in spite of it? Even if there was not such an agreement, why were the demonstrators not allowed to proceed to the demonstration area at the entrance to the Main Wing of the Government Headquarters where almost all protestors are allowed to demonstrate? Finally, why did pepper spray have to be used against these protesters?
Human Rights Monitor wants to highlight the fact that the rights to demonstration and expression are protected for all by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the Basic Law. Their peaceful enjoyment without discrimination is a hallmark of a civilized modern polity.
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