Peaceful march organizers the Hong Kong Civil Human Rights Front on Thursday called for calm, warning against vigilante-style retaliation after its leader was set upon and bloodied by hammer-wielding thugs.
Civil Human Rights Front convenor Jimmy Sham was recovering in hospital in a stable condition after being attacked in Kowloon's Mong Kok district on Wednesday evening by a group of four or five men wielding hammers.
Fellow group members on Thursday visited Sham in hospital, where he was fully conscious, albeit with several head wounds.
Sham suffered no fractures during the attack, but there were some injuries to his bones, and he will need physical therapy to recover, and won't be participating in public events for some time, the group's vice convenor Eric Lai told reporters.
He said Sham had called on protesters not to try pursuing his attackers on their own initiative, as some had been saying they would do in online comments.
Lai called instead for people to continue with peaceful protests, including a rally on Sunday.
He said Sham had been unable to register any details about his attackers' appearance, not even their ethnicity.
"Jimmy Sham made it clear that he was unable to confirm the appearance of the guilty parties, because he had covered his head with his hands to protect himself," Lai said.
Lai's comments came after rumors appeared online that the attackers were South Asian.
The police have offered Sham protection following the attack, but Lai said there were already issues with the way police were handling evidence in the case, including not picking up his backpack until it was proferred by the protest group.
Attack likely premeditated
Ng Tak-nam, chief police inspector for the Mong Kok area, said the attack was likely "premeditated," and strongly condemned the violence.
Ng promised that the police would carry out an impartial investigation, including examining any links between Wednesday's attack and an earlier attack on Sham in August, for which nobody has yet been arrested.
"Witnesses said they had seen the car they drove away circling the street several times," Ng said. "Their method was to make sure the attackers were able to jump into the car immediately after the attack, and escape at speed."
"They were all wearing the same clothing, as well as masks to cover their faces," he said.
Hong Kong's second-in-command Matthew Cheung said he was "greatly concerned" about the attack.
"We will follow this up as a matter of urgency, and pursue those responsible, to protect the safety of the people of Hong Kong," Cheung said.
The attack on Sham comes amid growing public mistrust of the police, who have been repeatedly accused of physical abuse and sexual assault of detained protesters since the anti-extradition movement escalated in early June.
A group of volunteers this week published an independent review of such complaints, saying "transgressions" by the police appeared in some cases to be deliberate.
"We have found cases where the police are suspected to be involved in physical abuse, refusal to show the Police Warrant Card while performing their duties, obstruction of the press, etc," the report said.
"The videos we have seen suggest that the transgressions were not merely caused by negligence, but rather deliberate actions ... The situation deteriorated as the conflicts escalated," it said.
It said the abuse of police powers was undermining the rule of law in Hong Kong.
The report comes after U.S. Senator Josh Hawley said during a visit this week that the city is becoming a police state.
"From ... the number of video clips we have collected and the suspected abuse of power by the Hong Kong Police Force reflected in those clips, we have reason to believe that what this report reveals is only the tip of an iceberg," its authors conclude.
"The situation ... not only involves suspected abuse of power and other alleged violations of the frontline officers, [but] these unlawful actions seemed to be supported by senior management," it said.
It said police failure to intervene when white-shirted thugs attacked people in Yuen Long on July 21 had prompted widespread concern over the force's collusion with local triad criminal gangs, that have yet to be dispelled, "further destabilizing the situation."
"It would therefore be rather naive to suggest that forming an independent commission of inquiry would be enough to alleviate the tensions and allow rifts among various segments of the society to mend," the authors said, calling on the administration of chief executive Carrie Lam to meet the five demands of the protest movement.
The protesters' five key demands are: the formal withdrawal of planned amendments to extradition laws; an amnesty for arrested protesters; an end to the description of protesters as rioters; an independent inquiry into police abuse of power; and fully democratic elections.
In recent days, protesters have also begun calling for the current Hong Kong police force to be disbanded, particularly after widespread reports of the sexual abuse and torture of detainees at the hands of police have been publicly dismissed by senior officers.
A recent opinion poll for the Ming Pao newspaper carried out by the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) found that around 70 percent of respondents support disbanding the current police force and reconstituting it.
Francis Lee, dean of journalism and communication at CUHK, said an independent commission of inquiry into police violence and abuse of power might no longer be enough to resolve the current standoff between Hong Kong's citizens and Carrie Lam's administration.
"Even if they were willing to set up an independent commission of inquiry, how could Hong Kong people have confidence in it, and trust that it would be truly independent ... instead of just serving the government and the police?" Lee said. "This is a question of [public] trust."
Reported by Lau Siu-fung and Tseng Lap-yin for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.