An international panel of law enforcement experts has stepped down from a Hong Kong government probe into allegations of police violence and misconduct during recent protests, saying the city's police complaints body has no power to gather evidence or compel witnesses.
In a major blow to the administration of Carrie Lam, which has repeatedly refused to start an independent inquiry as demanded by protesters, the group of independent advisers to the city's police complaints body endorsed the growing calls for a public inquiry, which it said would be better suited to the job at hand.
Last month, a leaked statement from the group said the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which has been tasked with handling reports of police violence, lacked the powers to carry out a proper investigation.
The Independent Expert Panel, which was invited by the government in September to "provide international experience and advice" to the IPCC, said its attempts to negotiate stronger powers for the body had come to nothing in the past month.
"As a result, the IEP (Independent Expert Panel) has taken the decision to formally stand aside from its role," the statement said.
"We ultimately concluded that a crucial shortfall was evident in the powers, capacity and independent investigative capability of IPCC," it said.
The panel was chaired by Sir Dennis O'Connor, who was tasked by the British government to write a report on the police after the 2011 London riots and included current or former police watchdog chiefs from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand and a British specialist on crowd behavior.
Police have made more than 6,000 arrests in Hong Kong since protests began in early June. While Lam has withdrawn a hugely unpopular legal amendment that would have allowed extradition to mainland China, she has stopped short of ordering an independent inquiry into police violence, in spite of growing calls for such a move from across the political spectrum.
She has also ruled out an amnesty for arrested protesters, an end to the description of protesters as "rioters," and calls for fully democratic elections to the city's Legislative Council (LegCo) and for the post of chief executive.
IPCC chairman Anthony Neoh played down the withdrawal of the international experts, saying they "hadn't quit as such."
But the IPCC said in September that the experts would be on board for all three phases of the investigation, rather than standing down at the end of phase one.
Drawing a clear line
Icarus Wong of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor group said the international experts had put their finger on the crux of the problem.
"These experts don't want their reputations being used by the Hong Kong government and the IPCC, as a way of showing the general public and the international community that they are dealing in all sincerity with the problem of police brutality and abuse of power," Wong said.
"It's obvious that they are drawing a clear line and sending a clear message that ... there needs to be an independent commission of inquiry to investigate these matters," he said.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Tanya Chan agreed.
"The fact that the entire panel of international experts are jumping ship is a very obvious blow to Carrie Lam," Chan said. "It is also a clear vote of no confidence in the forthcoming interim report [from the IPCC]."
Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Lu Xi for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.