Hong Kong Protesters Reject Leader's Apology, Call For Independent Probe

china-apology-061819.jpg Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam addresses a press conference at the Legislative Council, June 18, 2019.

Protesters against a bid to change Hong Kong's extradition laws booed the city's chief executive Carrie Lam on Tuesday after she offered an apology in person for "deficiencies" in the government's work, while the city's journalists lodged official complaints about police violence against them.

Lam offered the apology in her first press conference since a series of historic mass protests against plans to allow extradition to China.

While Lam said her government would shelve the amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance on Saturday, two million people took to the streets on Sunday calling for her resignation, and for the bill to be completely withdrawn.

As soon as her statement ended, a few dozen protesters who remained on Tuesday evening outside the Legislative Council (LegCo) booed loudly, as she had failed to offer her resignation.

Lam appeared to move away from previous official descriptions of protests on June 12 outside the city's legislature, saying that the protesters had acted in a "peaceful and rational manner."

But her change of wording cut no ice with protesters listening to a live feed of her speech.

"Last Wednesday, various government departments including the police used the term 'rioting' to describe the clashes between people and police," a protester surnamed Leung told RFA. "A few days later, they are evading the issue and trying to take back these words, but they are just playing word-games."

"Last Wednesday's clashes weren't riots, but demonstrations," he said.

A slight concession

Jimmy Sham, convenor of protest organizers the Civil Human Rights Front, said he would be meeting with pro-democracy lawmakers to decide how to proceed.

"Carrie Lam has made a slight concession for PR purposes, but her attitude is still as arrogant as before," Sham said. "The Hong Kong police are being allowed to question journalists and beat up unarmed civilians with impunity."

"We think that there has to be an independent investigation to get to the bottom of the police violence last Wednesday," he said.

Lam also made it clear she had no plans to resign, nor did she order the release of the dozens of people arrested in the aftermath of the June 12 protests around LegCo, as protesters have demanded.

She said she was "saddened" that some people had been injured, including police officers "who maintained law and order," as well as journalists.

Attacks on journalists

Twenty-six journalists have testified so far on alleged abuses perpetrated on media workers by police officers during the demonstrations against the extradition bill.

"Those abuses have not only caused journalists bodily harm but also infringed upon the press freedoms enshrined in the Basic Law," the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) said in a statement on its website, adding that it had filed complaints on all cases with the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) watchdog and called for a full investigation.

The complaints include 10 cases of police officers firing tear gas canisters at journalists at close range, hitting three of the complainants on the head, it said.

Three journalists reported being beaten by police with batons, one was hit by a rubber bullet or bean bag bullet, while eight reported being shoved by police shields and batons so they were unable to report from the scene.

Police were also accused of shining strong lights into cameras to disrupt filming, and obstructing journalists by subjecting them to searches.

In all cases, the the journalists had displayed clear press identification, had verbally informed officers of their status, and had been standing nowhere near protesters at the time of the alleged incidents.

"By directing force and intimidation at persons clearly identifiable as journalists, these officers have overstepped [their] lawful powers in maintaining public order," the HKJA said, calling for an investigation into who ordered such behavior by police.

The HKJA cited Article 27 of Hong Kong's Basic Law, which states: "Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions, and to strike."

Meanwhile police general orders stipulate that officers must facilitate the work of journalists and not obstruct camera lenses, it said.

Appeasing Beijing

Lau Siu Kai of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies said Lam's main purpose was likely to appease Beijing, rather than the protesters.

"From Carrie Lam's point of view, the most important thing right now is to firm up political support [for herself] in the Chinese central government and among the pro-establishment camp [in Hong Kong]," Lau said.

"The pro-establishment will have no choice but to continue supporting Carrie Lam given Beijing's full support for her, because their political fate depends upon it," he said.

Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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