A video apparently showing at least six plainclothes Hong Kong police officers dragging a handcuffed pro-democracy protester into a dark corner then kicking and beating him captivated and enraged many in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory on Wednesday.
The incident threatened to ratchet up tensions anew just as the protests that have paralyzed parts of the city for more than two weeks looked to be running out of steam.
Thousands of protesters returned to the Admiralty district Wednesday evening in a defiant mood, apparently galvanized by the alleged attack that some demonstrators were calling Hong Kong’s “Rodney King moment.”
“Why do you treat us as enemies?” asked Hong Kong Federation of Students deputy leader Lester Shum, angrily addressing police before the crowd in Admiralty. “Are you not also Hong Kongers? Will you not also enjoy what we’re trying to fight for? Why do you hit us?”
The man in the video was later identified as Ken Tsang, a member of the pro-democracy Civic Party and a volunteer social worker. After a trip to a hospital, Tsang appeared before local media and displayed injuries to his face, neck and torso. Tsang said he was beaten immediately after his detention and again at a police station, and he vowed to take legal action.
In a statement, the police force expressed concern over the video. “Police have already taken immediate actions and will conduct investigation impartially,” it said. “The Complaints Against Police Office has already received a relevant complaint and will handle it in accordance with the established procedures in a just and impartial manner.”
Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok told local media that the officers in question had been transferred to different duties.
In recent days, police have stepped up their efforts to reduce the areas held by the demonstrators, who have been protesting since late September and demanding open nominations of candidates for the city’s highest office in 2017. The central government in Beijing has rejected such a framework, insisting that all candidates must be approved by a special committee.
Authorities in Beijing have repeatedly denounced the protesters. A commentary carried by the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily on Wednesday said the demonstrations were “doomed to fail.”
With demonstrations now in their third week, protest leaders conceded Wednesday they needed to reconsider their approach. “We need to think of strategies,” Chinese University of Hong Kong sociologist Chan Kin-man, a protest organizer, told the crowd, which later chanted, “Police are shameful!”