At her first town hall meeting on Thursday night, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam rejected repeated calls from the floor to set up an independent commission of inquiry.
Lam and four ministers faced a group of around 130 randomly-selected Hong Kong people at Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Wan Chai during two-and-a-half hours of “dialogue”, in which she admitted that she failed to uphold her campaign slogan of “We Connect” by not listening to people’s views.
Some 30 people were drawn by paper ballot and given three minutes each to voice their concerns. The atmosphere was in general calm, with no chanting of slogans or foul language in the venue. People exchanged their views and political stances without any disturbances.
Two-thirds of the speakers expressed concern about “excessive use of force by the police” and 12 requested the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry to look into such matters.
But Lam, who expected an independent inquiry would be a focus, stood firm and rejected their demands, reiterating that inquiries could be done by the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC).
Lam said the rule of law was a core value of Hong Kong, and everyone – whether they are officials, police, or members of the public – would be treated the same way. Members of public and law enforcement agencies must abide by all laws and regulations.
“So when I support our law enforcement agencies in doing their jobs, this doesn’t mean I will allow them to flout regulations, or flout the law”, Lam said.
Lam also ruled out granting an amnesty to the more than 1,500 people who have been arrested so far in connection with the protests, which was one of five demands the protesters have been calling for.
Notorious holding center
But she revealed that police had stopped using San Uk Ling Holding Centre in Man Kam To, near the border with Shenzhen, amid claims that police were abusing those arrested. She said the IPCC has been investigating abuse claims.
On August 11, dozens of people who were taken to the facility ended up in hospital, with many suffering broken bones, and leading to persistent questions over how they were treated there.
Only four out of the 30 people selected on Thursday spoke in support of the government.
One woman who said an independent inquiry should be set up suggested that it be led by judges and focus on causes of “riots”, as well as any involvement of lawmakers, teachers, social workers inciting young people to protest.
She also said the government should regulate journalists, in particular, Radio Television Hong Kong, as it was “not doing what an official broadcaster should do”.
The public broadcaster has been under attack by pro-government protesters for alleged bias against the government in its reports. On some occasions, their journalists have been insulted and attacked.
Another woman who claimed she belongs to a member of the silent majority and had not joined any protests over the past three months questioned what protesters have they achieved after escalating violence, saying all citizens did not support them.
Unlike other speakers who expressed worries about the police, this woman said she was not scared when she walked in front of a police station or officers on the streets. “But I am really scared when I see a group of people wearing black and putting their facemasks on and shouting loudly.”
Citizens online later found out that this woman is an auxiliary police officer. They left sarcastic remarks saying “no wonder, she is not afraid of any cop”.
The audience also said they weren’t impressed with Lam’s performance, feeling that she couldn’t answer high-quality questions raised by the speakers and that the talk did not give much value.
Many felt it was just a political stunt for Lam, so she can tell people “I have listened” – when they did not think she had, RTHK reported.
Before the event started, a crowd gathered outside the venue in the evening after riot police moved into the stadium with gear, pepper spray and tear-gas canisters.
Protesters outside continued to chant slogans such as “Five demands, not one less” in apparent hope that Lam and her cohort inside would hear their voice.
The event ended at 9.30pm, but Lam and her senior aides were stuck inside the stadium for around four hours after protesters blocked her from leaving. Some ripped up paving stones and railings, scattering them on the road, slowing down but not stopping traffic.
At one point riot police arrived in several vans and raised a blue flag – to indicate that people were taking part in an illegal assembly. But the protesters didn’t back off, so police retreated soon after.
After play a waiting game, protesters started to head home. And at 1.30am, when just a handful remained, Lam and her aides were finally able to get in their cars and leave.