Australia

Photo source: Herald Sun

We strongly encourage everyone to send this letter to Senator Payne, or anyone whom may concern. Change of wordings is most certainly welcomed.

Senator the Hon. Marise Payne
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Parliament of Australia

PO Box 6100
Senate
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Foreign.minister@dfat.gov.au

Petition with regards to Hong Kong Police Force’s excessive use of force against protestors

Dear Senator Payne,

We are a group of concerned Australian permanent residents and citizens with families and friends in Hong Kong, who believe there is an urgent need to bring the issues of the suppression of the right of protest during the Anti-Extradition Bill Movement to the world. We have been mortified by the behaviours of the Hong Kong Police Force (“HKPF”), endorsed by the Hong Kong SAR government and other controlling parties, in the series of recent protests, specifically with regards to the highly suspicious relationship between the HKPF, and Triads (gangsters) and the blatant overuse of Riot Control Agents (“RCA”), including but not limited to tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets. Along with Hong Kong government’s unwavering support and continued endorsement of the HKPF and their actions, Hong Kong residents have become gravely concerned with their own safety in the hometown they live in and care deeply about. We are writing with the hope that you may unveil the grim situation and predicament of Hong Kong to the United Nations Human Rights Council, with the ultimate goal that the injustice and misconducts shown by the Hong Kong SAR government and police force will be judged by the international rule of law.

1. Excessive use of force
1.1.Blatant overuse of force, especially RCAs

Since early June, the Anti-Extradition Bill protests (hereby referred to as “protests”) have been met with unprecedented levels of escalating violence exercised by the HKPF. According to the 1990 Basic Principles on the use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (“BPUFF”), law enforcement officials are to exercise restraint in their use of force and weaponry in proportion to the seriousness of the offence, whenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable1. The 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention also states, while RCAs are permitted for use for ‘law enforcement including domestic riot control’, the types and quantities must be consistent with such purposes. Yet, over 1500 rounds of tear gas, 160 rounds of bean bag rounds and numerous sponge grenades have been fired since the beginning of the protests. In particular, on August 5th alone, police said the force had used around 20 sponge grenades, 140 rubber bullets and 800 tear gas grenades. The excessive use of RCAs is horrifyingly disproportionate to the mostly peaceful nature of the protests. Specifically, the over-deployment of tear gas, leading to an unusually high concentration of chemicals in the areas of deployment, may have contributed to individuals developing reactions to the gas that are more severe than usual, including symptoms of second-degree burns.
Other than RCAs, policemen were also seen on camera singling out and surrounding protestors one at a time. The policemen would then proceed to savagely assault the protestors with batons. In light of such hostility displayed by the HKPF, it is only understandable that protestors and other citizens would retaliate as a means of self-defence, turning originally peaceful protests into chaotic scenes. However, the HKPF and Hong Kong government used protestors’ retaliation to justify their use of excessive force, deeming it completely within scope of practice and necessity.

1.2.Inappropriate use of RCAs, in breach of guidelines within international human rights law

It is clearly stated in the BPUFF that “deployment of non-lethal incapacitating weapons should be carefully evaluated in order to minimise the risk of endangering uninvolved persons… (and that) whenever lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials shall minimise damage and injury, and respect and preserve human life.”
However, it is evident that the HKPF have not taken the above guidelines into consideration when using RCAs against protestors in, and not limited to, the following scenarios.

1.2.1. Deployment of RCAs within close proximity of protestors, leading to permanent injuries

Weaponry used by HKPF, including rubber bullets, pepper ball rounds, rubber rocket rounds, beanbag rounds and sponge grenades are meant to be used from a certain distance away. Firing of such weapons within close proximity (within 10 metres) is known to cause serious injury, or even death and is on within the HKPF’s protocols. Moreover, in accordance to the Geneva guidelines on Less-Lethal Weapons and Related Equipment in Law Enforcement, kinetic impact projectiles such as rubber bullets, beanbag rounds and sponge grenades can cause serious injury to individuals targeted if shot in the face, head or torso, implying that only the lower limbs should be targeted when such weapons are in use.

Yet, police officers have been caught on camera firing the weapons from within a distance of one metre or less from protestors and deliberately aiming at their heads. At least two protestors have been shot in the eye when police fired their weapons in an attempt to disperse the crowd on two separate occasions. Both individuals, a teacher and a nurse, have been blinded in one eye as a result. Such injuries could have been prevented if the HKPF were adherent to the guidelines listed when using their weapons. The result of such injuries is therefore unacceptable, especially when both victims’ quality of life will now be severely impacted.

1.2.2. Use of expired tear gas canisters

According to the New York Times 2 “Experts say officers should fire tear gas canisters a short distance toward the edges of a crowd. But law enforcement officers at times ignore those guidelines, leading to debilitating injuries… Groups have begun documenting health issues like prolonged coughing, skin blisters and diarrhea. Bystanders with no protective gear, including children, have been seen getting caught in tear gas.”

Used canisters of tear gas with an expiry date of 10/2016 were found onsite after clashes between protestors and policemen in the residential areas of Wong Tai Sin and Shum Shui Po. Photos of these canisters have since then been circulating on the Internet, raising serious public concerns over the potential damage on public health, especially when it is known that firing of expired tear gas may lead to the release of toxic fumes and chemicals, including cyanide. To this day, the HKPF refused to comment on the photo evidence released, while also refusing to guarantee that officers would not deploy expired tear gas canisters. The HKPF’s spokesperson only insisted that there are policies in place to which officers adhere to diligently.

1.2.3. Deployment of RCAs directly at protesters, at high and in confined and poorly ventilated indoor spaces

In the same article by the New York Times:
‘In several cases, the police have shot tear gas from their perches above the crowds.’

‘On August 5th in Admiralty… thousands of protesters gathered outside the government headquarters as part of a general strike across Hong Kong. The demonstration was considered an unlawful assembly because it expanded beyond what was authorized by the city.’

‘“Shooting from such a position is reckless”, Mr. Bueermann (former president of the Police Foundation in Washington) said, because the tear gas canisters fall to the ground at a high speed. Most canisters collected by protesters have been six-inch-round metal shells… “I think that is hugely problematic. If it hits someone in the head, you could kill them.” From a distance, the police also don’t have a complete understanding of the protesters’ actions, said Dr. Rohini J. Haar, an adviser at Physicians for Human Rights, an advocacy group. “At such a height, they may not be able to discern whether protesters have become threatening.” 3

According to the Geneva guidelines on Less-Lethal Weapons and Related Equipment in Law Enforcement 4, ‘chemical irritants should not be used in confined spaces… owing to the risk of death or serious injury from asphyxiation.’ On 11th August, HKPF deployed tear gas and pepper balls inside Kwai Fong and Tai Koo metro stations respectively. Both metro stations are confined and poorly-ventilated indoor spaces; in particular, Tai Koo station is an underground station. At the time of deployment, numerous protestors and civilians were inside these stations and most were leaving the protest area. The public is now concerned as to how tear gas chemicals may affect the health of individuals in the long run, as it is believed that there will be remnants of it in the station for prolonged periods of time, and that the chemicals could circulate through the ventilation system to the whole train network. The day after the Tai Koo metro tear gas incident, it is reported that some train commuters have been hospitalised for suspected low-levels of cyanide poisoning.

A freelance filmmaker, Ryan Lai, was filming protests outside a police station in Sham Shui Po. Although protester numbers had dwindled to what looked like dozens of people, the police fired  tear gas, striking Mr. Lai in the head, who was in a high-vis vest and a wearing a helmet indicating he was a journalist. He was seen bleeding profusely in the head. It is possible that that Mr Lai was directly targeted, as it is known that journalists have been obstructed by the HKPF from performing their jobs in an attempt  to limit press freedom.

2. Collusion with the Triads in alleged terror attack on innocent civilians (the Yuen Long incident on 21st July and subsequent events)

On top of the questionable use of weaponry, the police have also harboured the Triad attacks that occurred in Yuen Long on 21st July and subsequent Triad-led violence in North Point and Tsuen Wan on 5th August. In the Yuen Long attack, police delayed their response to call for help and reports of Triad-led violence by an hour, during which the emergency hotline (equivalent to Australia’s 000) was unreachable, and local police station shut their station doors in the face of civilians seeking assistance. After the attack, police were even seen chatting and patting shoulders with the thugs.The behaviours described above are extremely inappropriate verging on the grounds of corruption, given that the police’s purpose is to protect the public from threat and harm, as well as maintaining peace. What we witnessed on 21st July and 5th August were behaviours that encouraged violence and disruption of peace in the society. In the end, the protestors and ordinary civilians were left to defend themselves from the armed triads without help from the HKPF. Many were injured as the triads attacked protestors and pedestrians indiscriminately, including the elderly, women, and children. A pregnant woman was one of the injured, was knocked unconscious and was seen bleeding profusely after being hit in the head by triads members. To this day, no triad gangsters have been charged for the 21st July attack.

3. Hong Kong government’s endorsement of HKPF’s behaviours

Despite the aforementioned unlawful acts of the HKPF, the Hong Kong government has repeatedly rejected the pleas of the people to establish an independent commission to investigate the conduct of the HKPF, and the use of force during the protests. Instead, they persist in endorsing the behaviour of the HKPF, claiming that the HKPF exercised a minimum level of force required to control the situations they were faced with, and that the government would continue to support the actions of the HKPF.While the police have not at all been prosecuted for their blatant overuse and misuse of force, hundreds of protestors have been arrested since the beginning of protests, and many court hearings have already been held against the charged individuals. Those protestors in Hong Kong are now facing is a highly unjust system, in which organisations of power and governance are favoured. This has even led to public prosecutors participating in a civil service strike against the government, as they believed that many of the arrested should not be prosecuted as the charges had little to no evidence of their involvement in an unlawful assembly or riot.

As the Hong Kong SAR Government has decided to ignore the voices of the people and turn a blind eye to the misconduct of the HKPF, we are pleading to the international community and hope that justice may prevail.Considering Australia’s standing as a founding member of the United Nations, our membership in the UN Human Rights Councils and the Council’s five pillars 5, to consider these infringements of good governance and freedom of expression. The Hong Kong SAR Government, and the HKPF as its agent, has displayed characteristics of a tyrannical regime, in their attempts to violently suppress the right of Hong Kong’s residents to peaceful protest.

Yours Sincerely,

A Concerned Australian Resident/ Citizen


1Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, 8th UN Crime Congress (adopted 7 September 1990)
2 Lai, K. and Ramzy, A., ‘1,800 Rounds of Tear Gas: Was the Hong Kong Police Response Appropriate?’, NYTimes[online] (accessed 18 August 2019) https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/18/world/asia/hong-kong-tear-gas.html
3 Ibid
4 Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, Geneva Guidelines on Less-Lethal Weapons and Related Equipment in Law Enforcement(Text for Consultation, October 2018), 8.2.6
5 Department of Trade and Foreign Affairs,Pillars and Priorities (Web Page, accessed 19 August 2019)
https://dfat.gov.au/international-relations/international-organisations/un/unhrc-2018-2020/pillars-and-priorities/Pages/pillars-and-priorities.aspx

Hong Kong: End Punishment of Peaceful Protesters

Goal: 25,000 emails sent
68%
This petition is initiated by Amnesty International.
Description of the petition:

UPDATE: More than 600 people* have been arrested in the current protests in Hong Kong. The imprisonment of the Umbrella 9 leaders sets a chilling precedent for them. Call on Carrie Lam to release those currently imprisoned, and send her a message that peaceful protest is a human right.

The Umbrella Movement made global headlines when they filled Hong Kong’s streets to peacefully protest the erosion of their democracy.

Now, nine leaders of the pro-democracy protests have been found guilty of conspiring “to commit public nuisance.” Four have been sentenced to up 16 months imprisonment.

This is the first time the government has used these charges against peaceful protestors. Their imprisonment under these charges sets a precedent for the government to pursue charges against the other 955 people originally arrested for protesting.

This is a politically motivated prosecution designed to silence criticism of the government. The Umbrella nine face prison –  so the authorities can make a point that all dissent will be silenced.

We know that Hong Kong doesn’t want to lose face on the world stage. They want to be seen to be doing the right thing.

Call on Hong Kong’s authorities to release those imprisoned and overturn the convictions of the Umbrella Movement leaders.

*As of 31st August, over 900 people have been arrested.

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