I recently started writing a short, light-hearted political column for Hong Kong Time Out Magazine. Below is the uncut, original version…
The force is Strong
“We serve with pride and care” so say the cheesy Hong Kong Police recruitment ads – unless you’re a homeless Nepali guy, it is presumed. Police behaviour is in the headlines once more, but perhaps we need to examine the more fundamental issue of accountability?
Our police to population ratio of 440 for every 100,000 residents is amongst the world’s highest, boasting over 30,000 officers and the world’s largest marine fleet. The numbers speak for themselves when assessing the authoritative nature of the local constabulary, but if something goes wrong and you’ve a complaint against our boys in blue, you might as well tell it to the pigeons.
I began to question police powers last summer when I – along with fellow Tibet activist Christina Chan – found myself followed for days and detained by clearly angry officers during our peaceful human rights protest. We were simply expressing our free speech, yet were bundled into police vans and removed from the Olympic Torch Rally sidelines. Our official complaint was well justified but it came as no surprise that nothing came of it…
Unlike in many other states, regional forces are governed by appointed members of the government Security Bureau rather than elected officials and local members of the public. Any complaints against the police are investigated by the Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO), which has no independence. (i.e. “Did I do anything wrong? Hey, it turns out I didn’t!”) Instead, the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) then reviews each case the CAPO handle, despite lacking any investigative powers themselves (i.e. “Did you guys do anything wrong? Who knows, but the paperwork looks kosher!”).
Shortly after our dodgy detention, I marched with Long Hair and other protesters to the Police HQ and presented an unlucky spokesman with a gold medal for ‘Suppressing Freedom of Speech’. Christina, meanwhile, is also pressing ahead with a legal case.
Police trade unions wouldn’t have this bureaucratic and unaccountable system any other way, but NGOs, the UN, local parties and we activist types must continue calling for reform. Whether it be the simple removing of protesters or more sinister recent cases of gross misjudgement, the police have to be more transparent if they expect our support and confidence.
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