Five international law enforcement experts have quit as advisers to a Hong Kong probe into allegations of police brutality, undermining government claims that its investigation would be independent.
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, has long rejected calls from the pro-democracy protest movement for an independent inquiry into conduct. She has insisted that the city’s police complaints council could handle the issue with the help of experts from the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand who were appointed in September.
Police have faced allegations of misconduct in their response to the increasingly violent demonstrations that have roiled the city since June. Public polling has revealed a significant drop in trust in the previously well regarded force.
Even pro-establishment figures, such as Abraham Shek who represents big land developers in the Legislative Council, the city’s de facto parliament, have supported calls for an inquiry.
Dixon Sing Ming, a political science professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said the experts decision to quit was “a belated slap in the face” for Ms Lam.
He added that it “undermined the legitimacy” of the government’s approach to allegations of police misconduct.
The panel members were: Denis O’Connor, the former UK chief inspector of constabulary; Michael Adams, an Australian judge; Colin Doherty, a New Zealand judge; Gerry McNeilly, a former director of Ontario’s Office of the Independent Police Review Director; and Clifford Stott, a professor at Keele University in the UK.
The panel had raised concerns that the Hong Kong Independent Police Complaints Council did not have the capacity to handle a broad inquiry.
On Wednesday, the group said in a statement that the council would need to need to expand its capabilities “in order for the IPCC to begin to meet the standards citizens of Hong Kong would be likely to require of a police watchdog operating in a society that values freedoms and rights”.
The panel said they would engage again with the IPCC “if and when it develops the necessary capabilities” and after it delivers its draft interim report into the policing of the protests.
Anthony Neoh, the chairman of the police council, suggested last week that there had been some disagreement between the council and the international panel.
“They don’t quite understand our current situation. What they suggested is beyond the IPCC’s statutory functions,” he told a Shenzhen television station.
“I have told them: thank you for your opinions but we will work in accordance with the laws.”
Chris Tang, Hong Kong’s new police commissioner, visited Beijing at the weekend and met Zhao Kezhi, China’s public security minister who pledged his “unfailing support” for the local force, according to Chinese state media.
Sonny Lo, a Hong Kong political commentator, said the panel’s decision showed the government needed to “reconsider” its opposition to an independent inquiry. “If not, the occasional violence would likely be a new normal,” he said.