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HK officers uphold high standard in trying times

By Grenville Cross | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-08-30 09:03
Radial protesters attack police officers in Tsuen Wan, in the western New Territories of South China's Hong Kong, Aug 25, 2019. Radical protesters block various roads, hurl bricks and stones at police officers in the protest. [Photo/Xinhua]

Many years ago, the Hong Kong Police Force acquired a reputation as "Asia's finest". It is a proud boast, but one that must be earned by each successive generation.

By their courage, today's police officers have not only matched the heroism of their predecessors, but even surpassed it. Under the circumstances, this is quite remarkable, given that they are facing unprecedented challenges.

In addition to physical attacks, the police also are being subjected to psychological pressures. In a new low, apart from cyber bullying and smear campaigns, their domestic quarters have been targeted, with no regard for the safety of their families. Even the children of police officers face bullying at school. Police officers themselves have received death threats as part of a campaign of intimidation.

Despite this, the officers have remained committed to upholding law and order and to protecting society. Although this is partly due to training, it is also because of the sense of public duty that inspired them to join the force in the first place. Their morale has held up remarkably well.

From the outset, the tactic of the fanatics has been to provoke police, usually by attacking them with assorted weapons, including bricks and gasoline bombs, and then, when police finally respond, after ample warnings, to condemn them for overreacting.

Although police have used maximum restraint wherever possible, every attempt has been made to blacken their reputation.

By lodging endless complaints against front-line officers, the fanatics hope to distract them with unnecessary inquiries into their conduct. The Complaints Against Police Office must, therefore, ensure its procedures are not abused, and be prepared to prosecute anyone who lodges a false complaint. In a like vein, the calls for a commission of inquiry into police conduct must be resisted.

Urban warfare is now raging on the streets of Hong Kong, and to counter the threat, the police force needs to be fully focused. Anything that might distract them at this crucial time must be rejected out of hand. Terrorist tactics have been repeatedly used against them, with officers having been set on fire by gasoline bombs on at least two occasions. Several bomb factories and weapons depots have been located, together with large amounts of cash.

Last weekend, a small group of officers was viciously attacked by a frenzied mob in Tsuen Wan when they tried to stop protesters from vandalizing private property. However, officers again displayed much restraint. The officers, after repeated warnings, confined themselves to drawing their guns as a deterrent and firing a single shot into the air, after which the mob backed off. Altogether that night, 16 officers were injured, following attacks with bricks, metal poles, sharpened sticks and gasoline bombs, while one officer was stabbed in the back.

The Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau recently reported that it had seen multiple online messages involving violence. Hopefully, at some point the European Union and the United States, as well as news media there, will take a realistic view of what is happening in Hong Kong, let everyone know the truth, and condemn the violence and destruction.

The European Union's office head in Hong Kong, Carmen Cano, said this week on Radio Television Hong Kong that the international community has heard the voice of the protesters "loud and clear". But has it also seen the violence? Cano must ensure that outsiders appreciate the threat Hong Kong is now facing from fanatical groups. She should also explain how bravely the police force has defended Hong Kong against wanton violence, which no EU member state would ever tolerate.

The author is a senior counsel, law professor and criminal justice analyst, and was previously the director of public prosecutions in Hong Kong. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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