A Hong Kong police association called on Monday for the use of live ammunition against anti-extradition demonstrators after some protesters threw Molotov cocktails at police headquarters at the weekend.
The Junior Police Officers' Association said that responding with rubber and beanbag bullets, water cannon and tear gas may not be enough to deter protesters from using the weapons.
"I must remind the radical rioters that the petrol bombs you use are deadly weapons," association chairman Lam Chi-wai was quoted as saying in a statement from the Association.
"Whenever rioters prepare to hurl petrol bombs, officers on the field could very likely interpret that as a life-threatening attack against themselves or others and respond with relevant use of force or weapons, including firearms with real bullets," Lam said.
The association called on its members to "take decisive action" when police officers' lives were under threat.
The statement came after police fired water cannon at a group of protesters who surrounded police headquarters in Wanchai on Sunday, after a largely peaceful protest had dispersed.
Retreating protesters also vandalized two subway stations as they left the scene, an expression of widespread public anger at the Mass Transit Railway Corp. which has cooperated with police by shutting down train services to make it harder for protesters to gather.
The Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor group hit out at the letter, saying it was tantamount to incitement to the use of live ammunition.
But the group warned that any escalation in the use of force by police would likely be matched by a similar escalation in the use of force by demonstrators.
"Responding to demonstrations by force will only exacerbate the crisis in Hong Kong and worsen Hong Kong's political and economic situation, both locally and internationally," the group said.
Dehumanizing terminology by police
It said the union had a history of using dehumanizing terminology when referring to anti-extradition protesters, which it described as hate speech.
"This will not help to restore public confidence in the police," the group said.
Meanwhile, pro-democracy politician Tanya Chan, who was handed an eight-year suspended jail term this year for her role in the 2014 pro-democracy movement, told the United Natios Human Rights Council that the city is on the verge of a humanitarian crisis.
"There is no sign that police will exercise restraint," Chan said. "This is a result of the lack of democracy in Hong Kong, as the government is not held accountable for its endorsement of police abuse."
Chan told the council that the police habitually refer to protesters as "cockroaches," and to violence against them as "pest control."
Chan's testimony came amid growing public anger at the response of police to attacks by pro-China thugs on protesters at the weekend, after which police arriving at the scene targeted protesters for arrest, rather than chasing after the attackers.
Photos of officers escorting one attacker away from the scene and hiding him behind one of their shields provoked fury among many social media users, as police are often seen ripping the face masks off young protesters they arrest, government broadcaster RTHK reported.
"Officers were also spotted shaking hands with some of the suspected attackers," it said.
Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said the police response appeared highly dubious.
"Why didn't they arrest those [attackers] in white T-shirts immediately and take them down to the police station?" Lam said. "There were so many journalists shooting video at the scene; so many witnesses. Even the police themselves were witnesses."
"The police are actually just encouraging people to protect themselves and compounding these assaults, which will lead to more and more serious violence in Hong Kong," he said.
Five key demands
The Hospital Authority said that eight people had been hospitalized by 9.00 p.m. on Sunday, as a result of "public activities." One was in critical condition, while another three were seriously injured, it said.
Pro-democracy activist Figo Chan said protesters shouldn't be arrested merely for protesting.
"I wore the clothing of the civil disobedience movement today to make it plain that I'm not going shopping: I'm protesting," Chan told RFA on Sunday. "This is a right that is enshrined in [Hong Kong's mini-constitution] the Basic Law."
"I have made mental preparation for being arrested and prosecuted ... but even if I am arrested, I know that the people of Hong Kong will keep on coming out in protest," he said.
A protester surnamed Wong, who gave his age as 95, said he joined Sunday's protest as a veteran of the 2014 Occupy Central movement for fully democratic elections.
"So what if I'm tired. I'll take a rest. I'm very happy right now that the young people have woken up," Wong said. "They care more deeply about Hong Kong than we do, although they didn't seem to care much in the past."
"We haven't done enough, young or old, to pay attention or protest ... but if we don't come out in protest now, pretty soon it won't even be an option," he said.
Protests that erupted in June in Hong Kong against plans by the city's government to allow extradition to mainland China have grown into a broader movement, even after the city’s chief executive Carrie Lam pledged to scrap the plan.
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.
Reported by Lau Siu-fung and Tam Siu-yin for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.