HONG KONG — Hong Kong police defended their increasingly violent tactics against pro-democracy protesters the day after thousands of people shut down the airport to protest police brutality.
A woman sustained severe injuries to her eye after allegedly being struck by a crowd control bean bag fired by police. Protest leader Joshua Wong claimed the police fired the bean bag directly at the woman's face. The police responded that there was no evidence they caused her injuries.
In a video published by Hong Kong Free Press, a man sobs in pain and apologizes repeatedly as the police — one of which is dressed as a protester — arrest him and press his face into the ground.
During a three-hour press conference on Monday in which police representatives were grilled by the media, Deputy Commissioner Tang Ping-keung admitted that officers had indeed disguised themselves as protesters.
The undercover officers, who were wearing black face masks and yellow hard-hats, like many protesters, were filmed refusing to admit they were officers or to show their badges. In response to complaints that the police had not identified themselves as is required by law, Tang said he would review what happened.
“Our decoy officers do not take part in any unlawful activities,” Tang said.
The violence Tuesday came after another weekend of chaos in Hong Kong, which were sparked nine weeks ago by a proposed extradition bill that would allow suspects to be sent to mainland China. But as violence escalates, the protesters’ anger has turned increasingly towards the police.
“The police are becoming more and more ridiculous,” said Rachael Wong, a 25-year-old financial planner who came to the airport to distribute leaflets to tourists. “So I hope to come here… and try to explain to people what is happening in Hong Kong.”
Thousands of people attended a sit-in at the airport — a major hub for the region and one of the world’s busiest — to protest police violence, prompting the Hong Kong airport authority to cancel all inbound and outbound flights.
Another sit-in has been planned for Wednesday and it remains unclear whether it will affect airport operations.
Videos and photos showing numerous incidents of alleged police violence were spread through social media overnight, with protesters successfully rallying thousands to travel to the airport to protest the brutality the next day.
Subway stations also became the site of more police violence, with officers firing tear gas inside one station and shooting pepper bullets at protesters at point-blank range in another. Other videos appeared to show police planting evidence on arrested protesters.
The police also addressed protesters’ claims that officers were using expired tear gas canisters, which they say are more dangerous for people’s health. After weeks of rumors, Tang finally confirmed that canisters of tear gas past their use-by date were indeed used, but insisted that they were no more harmful than non-expired tear gas.
Protesters have also accused the police of planting evidence on them. In response to these allegations, police senior superintendent Li Kwai-wah said they’d have to talk to both officers and witnesses, and said that “we cannot jump to the conclusion at this stage."
On Monday, Amnesty International condemned the violence, calling on other countries to stop exports of crowd control equipment “until a full and independent investigation is carried out, and adequate safeguards are put in place.”
The violence is what galvanized so many to come on short notice, like 22-year-old recent university graduate Hosan Kwok: “I came out today because we are so angry about yesterday. So many things happened,” he said.
Despite the now regular incidents of police brutality, Kwok says the protesters figured the airport should still be safe. They knew they could convince those who might otherwise avoid the more violent protests, helping them to achieve their goal of disrupting airport operations: “Those concerned with personal safety would come.”
With the protests now in their ninth week, the government has not caved in to any protester demands and has yet to meet with any protesters. Though the proposed extradition bill was suspended, it has not yet been withdrawn, a key issue for protesters – who have shown no signs of backing off.
“[Coming here] was the least that I could do,” said Agnes Chow, 36, who works in advertising and had the day off. “I want to show that if you act or [use your] voice for justice in Hong Kong, people will back you up. It’s something that people in China… either cannot or will not do.”
Cover: Police arrest a man in Tsim Sha Tsui after firing tear gas to clear the streets around a police station on Aug. 11. (Laurel Chor/VICE News)