Hong Kong Police chiefs have defended undercover officers who drew pistols and fired two live rounds into the sky. The incident occurred in Victoria Park during pitched battles against protesters who besieged the pair on Saturday night.
It was revealed on Monday that the two constables – who wore black gym suits, the color donned by protesters over recent months – were outflanked by youngsters angry at reports that police were secretly trying to blend in with the protesters, making mischief, then trapping and arresting people.
The ruckus in Causeway Bay descended into a fierce skirmish with more protesters joining in. The two officers, allegedly trapped in a precarious “life-threatening” situation, had no other option but to fire a warning shot – to force attackers away and ensure their own safety and that of others, a police chief in charge of public relations said.
He said the two officers identified themselves and produced their warrant cards but were unable to stop the fight, during which some protesters allegedly tried to grab their guns. One had to fire another live round into the air when people brandishing umbrellas and metal and wooden rods tried to hem him in again.
Hong Kong has been plagued by serious unrest for three months since the city government attempted to change the extradition law, to allow certain people to be tried in courts in mainland China. That bill has been suspended but public demonstrations have continued and morphed into a call for greater democratic rights in the former British colony.
Anger about undercover police infiltrating the protest movement has surged following an exposé at the end of last month by a local television channel, which revealed some well-built “protesters” dressed in black helping riot police subdue people they had arrested in the street.
A subsequent admission by police that plainclothes officers were working among the protesters may have put undercover agents in greater danger, given that protesters harbor deeper mistrust of the police and may vent their anger on an officer if one is exposed.
Asked why undercover police were allowed to carry loaded guns, a deputy commissioner of the police refused to give more details, saying that matters relating to the safety of police doing their duty were confidential.
Meanwhile, police also rejected claims that a “protester” spotted hurling a makeshift petrol bomb near the government headquarters in Admiralty on Saturday could have been an undercover officer – as he was carrying a gun.
In response, Police Assistant Commissioner (Operations) Mak Chin-ho vowed that undercover agents would never break any laws, let alone resort to throwing a petrol bomb.
Mak said police were concerned that certain protesters had imitation firearms, as it would be difficult, if not impossible, for officers to tell whether they were genuine weapons.
“If anyone points a firearm at any person, officers on the scene might be required to resort to appropriate force to combat or even pre-empt the attacker,” he said.
As of Monday, police had arrested 1,117 people aged from 13 to 58. That figure is expected to increase given the turmoil that has enveloped the city in recent days.