Hong Kong police watchdog clears force over protest response

HONG KONG (AFP) – Hong Kong’s police watchdog yesterday exonerated officers for their handling of violent democracy protests last year, concluding that public anger towards the city’s force was the result of online smear campaigns.

The report by the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) into the protests said accusations of brutality against police had become “a weapon of political protest” and cleared the force of any major wrongdoing. The findings are unlikely to satisfy protesters who have dismissed the watchdog as a toothless organisation and made an independent judge-led inquiry into the police force one of their core demands.

Hong Kong was battered by seven months of democracy protests last year that upended the city’s reputation for stability and left it deeply polarised.

The protests were initially sparked by a now scrapped bill to allow extraditions to China’s party controlled courts.

But they soon snowballed into a popular protest against Beijing’s rule after years of rising fears that the city’s freedoms were slipping.

Millions attended peaceful marches but violence routinely broke out with masked protesters throwing petrol bombs and rocks against riot police armed with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) Anthony Neoh speaks to the media in Hong Kong. PHOTO: AFP