Hong Kong cops sparked outrage when an officer shot a high school student point blank in the chest during violent protests Tuesday, prompting widespread protests and calls for the officer to be charged.
Instead, Hong Kong authorities are charging the 18-year-old protester as he recovers in hospital from surgery to remove the bullet that narrowly missed his heart. Police said Thursday they had charged Tsang Chi-kin with rioting and assaulting an officer, which carry a possible jail sentence of ten years.
The shooting of Tsang, known as Tony, marked the first time a protester had been shot with a live round since protests erupted in June.
Police swiftly defended the officer's actions Wednesday, with Deputy Commissioner Tang Ping-keung saying he had acted in a "lawful and reasonable" manner while facing "imminent danger” from Tsang, who police said was wielding a metal rod.
But that hasn’t washed with protesters, who took to the streets in their thousands Wednesday to denounce the dramatic escalation in police violence, with many calling for the officer to face charges. In Tsuen Wan, the district where the shooting occurred, a petrol bomb was thrown at the station.
The decision to charge Tsang will only inflame the public’s hostility towards the police, said Emily Lau, a veteran pro-democratic politician.
“Many people were shocked that the police behaved like that and the commissioner came out and immediately said the officers actions were right, without any investigation,” she told VICE News.
“These charges are just inflaming the situation. It’s very unwise.”
She said the charges went “in the opposite direction of trying to deescalate the situation, which is what any sensible government should do.”
“Now young people are not afraid to be arrested, beaten up, they’re not even afraid to die.”
The reaction online was of disbelief and anger.
“He almost lost his life. Now he's facing ten years in prison,” tweeted Hong Kong writer Karen Cheung.
“It’s crazy, he is potentially going to be in jail for 10 [years] and the police who shot him is not even being investigated,” replied another Twitter user.
While Tsang is the first victim of live bullets, others have been wounded by non-lethal ammunition. A lawyer for an Indonesian journalist who was shot in the eye by a rubber bullet while covering the protests Sunday revealed Wednesday she had permanently lost sight in that eye.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association said was gravely concerned about the shooting of Veby Mega Indah, who was wearing hi-vis clothing clearly identifying herself as a journalist at the time.
The charges against Tsang came amid reports the Hong Kong government plans to invoke emergency powers which haven’t been used for more than 50 years to ban face masks at public gatherings. Masks have been widely used throughout the protests, both to shield demonstrators from identification and protect them from police tear gas.
Lau said she expected the face mask ban would be openly defied.
“I’ll go out and wear one too,” she said. “You’ll have 200,000 people marching and wearing masks — what do you do? You’ll immediately have to build another 10 prisons.”
Cover: Demonstrators hold signs during a protest in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong, China, on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. (Photo: Chan Long Hei/Bloomberg via Getty Images)