In a decision seen as a rare victory for embattled pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, a court ruled that the city’s government failed to adequately address allegations of police misconduct.
The ruling lends weight to a key demand of the protesters last year for an independent inquiry into the police’s use of force during months of demonstrations. The city’s pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam had shrugged off calls for such a probe and insisted that an existing complaints system was capable of addressing any grievances with the police.
In a statement, a spokesman for the Hong Kong police force said it would review and follow up on the ruling, without elaborating.
Demonstrators and rights groups have accused Hong Kong police of using excessive force during violent unrest last year arising from Beijing’s encroachment on the semi-autonomous territory’s freedoms. Police have defended the crackdowns on the protests as lawful.
The new ruling sided with a complaint filed by the Hong Kong Journalists Association at the height of the protests that asked for an “effective investigation” into alleged police abuse. The judge said the Beijing-backed city government has an obligation to investigate complaints of abuse in compliance with the city’s Bill of Rights.
The existing complaints mechanism “is inadequate to discharge this obligation,” the ruling read. It also required police to prominently display their identification for accountability.
“We welcome the judgement,” Chris Yeung, chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, told VICE World News. “If the government wants to restore the people's trust in the police, these are basic steps they can take.”
The decision by the city’s Court of First Instance arrived several months after Beijing asserted its authority over Hong Kong with a sweeping national security law in June that criminalizes a wide range of dissent. The former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under the promise of civil liberties and an independent judiciary, but Beijing has been accused of undermining those values with the security legislation.
Pro-democracy figure and former lawmaker Claudia Mo said the Thursday ruling was only a “moral victory” and it won’t change the status quo.
“The local police force is now widely seen as the equivalent of Beijing‘s army, cracking on dissent amongst its own people,” she told VICE World News. “I’m not optimistic that the court ruling will have any impact on improving the situation. The government’s attitude is likely to one of ‘it is as it is.’”