Protesters surged back onto Hong Kong's streets on Wednesday in the wake of video footage showing police beating up a demonstrator of the pro-democracy movement occupying key areas of the semiautonomous Chinese territory for the third week in a row.
Hundreds of people protested outside police headquarters in downtown Hong Kong, while some 2,000 gathered late on Wednesday at the main protest site occupying a stretch of highway in Admiralty district, near the headquarters of the city government led by embattled chief executive C.Y. Leung.
Video footage filmed live at the scene by local journalists showed Civic Party member Ken Tsang being beaten and kicked by a group of police officers in a dark area while they were clearing a main road of protesters in a violent crackdown.
Tsang later showed journalists his injuries and vowed to sue the seven officers—two inspectors and five constables—who police have identified as those in the video, and who have now been transferred to different posts.
"You should have seen the TV footage of a number of police officers brutally assaulting me, while I was ... utterly defenceless," he said, in comments translated by the South China Morning Post newspaper.
"Prior to that I had already been assaulted, and was later yet again assaulted in the police station."
A student surnamed Tsang, who was at Lung Wo Street in the early hours of Wednesday morning, said the police had moved in at around 3:00 a.m. local time, row upon row of them.
"There were probably only about 100 of us, so we had no way to resist them," Tsang said. "When they reached us ... we used our umbrellas to fend them off."
"[But] they beat us with their riot shields, so we retreated back to government headquarters," he said.
Police chief superintendent Steve Hui expressed "serious concern" over the TV footage. "If there is any criminality revealed, we will proceed with the case in accordance with the law," he told reporters.
Pan-democratic politicians have called on Hong Kong's Legislative Council security panel to set out clear guidelines for police handling of protesters.
Meanwhile, some 20 journalists at broadcaster TVB said management had edited out a voice-over from the video footage of the alleged assault explaining what was happening.
They said the voice track had provided a neutral description of what was taking place, rather than commenting on it, and called on their bosses to allow journalists to report events accurately.
Hong Kong Journalists' Association chairwoman Sham Yee-lan said the journalists had acted "bravely."
"This is the biggest news story involving mass protests we have ever seen in Hong Kong's history," Sham told RFA. "The journalists were simply describing what was happening, and this made a very strong story taken together with the video footage."
"I think that for the editors to take out the report from the scene amounts to self-censorship."
Chief executive Leung, who is himself under investigation over whether an undeclared payout in a business deal with an Australian company in 2012 constitutes wrongdoing, said the government would take the complaints seriously.
"We have an effective system and due process for achieving a just result for all," Leung said. "The SAR [Special Administrative Region] government will use this system and this process to deal with this matter."
Pan-democratic politicians slammed the police actions as depicted in the video.
Speaking at a news conference during which some shouted "Lawlessness! Private justice!", Civic Party Legislative Councillor Alan Leong said the police had used extrajudicial methods that were totally unacceptable.
"The officers concerned should be arrested," he said. "It's not enough to simply transfer them."
Civic Party chairwoman Audrey Eu agreed. "They should be suspended and placed under immediate investigation," she told reporters. "And if there is sufficient evidence, they should be subjected to criminal proceedings."
She called on the police to release the full names of the officers concerned. "That way, the victim will also be able to pursue a civil claim for compensation," Eu said.
Possibility of talks
Meanwhile, a top government official said the government is trying to revive the possibility of talks with protest leaders through a "well-respected middleman" after the government called off a planned dialogue with students last Friday.
The government's secretary for constitutional affairs Raymond Tam said he is hopeful he will be able to make an announcement on talks with students in the next few days.
There have been growing calls from prominent voices in academia, and the legal, religious and social welfare sectors for the government to talk to the protesters, who are demanding public nomination of candidates in the 2017 election for a replacement for Leung.
At a protest site on a busy road in Kowloon's shopping district of Mong Kok, a handful of protesters vowed to maintain their sit-in despite frequent verbal face-offs with anti-Occupy protesters and angry passers-by, and in spite of the possibility of violent clashes with police.
"It's pretty dangerous here ... It's pretty predictable that if the police come to clear the area, we will probably get beaten up," a protester surnamed Cheung told RFA.
He said police were already preparing to clear the Mong Kok Occupy site in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
"There were a lot of police getting ready to move in and clear the area in a sidestreet over there," Cheung said. "But after things got out of hand at Lung Wo Street, they didn't come."
Protesters coordinated by the Occupy Central group, the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) and the academic activist group Scholarism want the ruling Chinese Communist Party to review its Aug. 31 ruling limiting candidates to two or three people to be hand-picked by a pro-Beijing committee.
They have also repeatedly called for Leung's resignation over the police use of tear-gas and pepper spray on Sept. 28, and say he failed to give an accurate report of public consultations on the election process to Beijing.
Pro-democracy politicians and protesters alike have dismissed the Beijing election plan as "fake universal suffrage," because they mean a pro-democratic candidate is highly unlikely to be selected.
Students say Leung failed to take into account the wishes of 700,000 people who voted in an unofficial online referendum in support of public nominations.
Political commentator Wei Pu said the decision last week by Leung's second-in-command Carrie Lam to cancel planned talks with students had likely been against her own wishes.
"It's clear that this wasn't her idea, and that it probably wasn't C.Y. Leung's, either," Wei wrote in a commentary broadcast on RFA's Cantonese Service.
He said Leung's warning that there is "almost zero chance" of any change in the Aug. 31 ruling suggests that this is Beijing's bottom line.
"The real policy-makers are the central government in Beijing," Wei wrote. "And their manner of dealing with Occupy Central is obsolete."
"The real question is, will Xi Jinping, who is already bathed in the blood of June 4, 1989, also get stained with the blood of Occupy Central?" he wrote.
Reported by Dai Weisen and Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.