Hong Kong opposition members have grilled the city’s security secretary over allegations of police brutality during protests over a controversial extradition bill.
Pro-democracy members are planning to file a motion of no confidence in Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam over her handling of the postponed legislation, which sparked mass demonstrations over recent weeks including a march on Sunday involving an estimated two million people.
At the meeting of the Hong Kong legislature, opposition members wore black with white ribbons pinned to their lapels, placed white chrysanthemums on their desks and observed a few moments of silence in mourning for a protester who died in a fall on Saturday.
Security secretary John Lee rejected suggestions that he should resign to take responsibility for aggressive police tactics, including beatings with steel batons and heavy use of tear gas.
He also defended decisions made by senior officers on the scene.
Pro-democracy legislator Gary Fan said that police encircled some protesters without warning and fired four rounds of tear gas. The demonstrators fled into a building, “running for their lives”, Mr Fan said.
“The people didn’t have anywhere to escape from the scene. How can this be a minimal use of force?”
Mr Lee reiterated Ms Lam’s insistence that the complaints against police would be handled through agencies established to handle such issues.
The chief executive formally apologised on Tuesday and said she was responsible for the extradition bill mess.
The fact that she did not shed tears or bow in apology became front page news, with many in Hong Kong criticising what they said was an apparent lack of contrition.
The motion of no confidence against Ms Lam is likely to be voted down or boycotted by the majority pro-government legislators. Most did not show up for the questioning session over complaints against police.
Critics of the extradition bill, which would allow some suspects to be extradited to stand trial in courts on mainland China, want Ms Lam to permanently withdraw it and step down.
They also are demanding a government guarantee that protest participants should not be unfairly accused of rioting if they did not commit any crimes.
Ms Lam, who was appointed by Beijing, would only say she would not revive the bill without certainty of its acceptance – signalling that it has been shelved indefinitely.
Many in Hong Kong fear a further weakening of this former British colony’s legal autonomy, promised for 50 years after Beijing took over in 1997, at a time when Communist-ruled China is growing increasingly authoritarian.
One concern is that the law might be used to send critics of Communist Party rule to the mainland to face vague political charges, possible torture and unfair trials.
Ms Lam has insisted the legislation is needed for Hong Kong to uphold justice and not become a magnet for fugitives.
It would expand the scope of criminal suspect transfers to include Taiwan, Macau and mainland China.
Samson Yuen, a professor at Hong Kong’s Lingnan University, said the extradition bill is like a “knife at the throat” for many in Hong Kong.
“There’s a lot of energy, emotion and passion and also anger,” he said in an interview. “It’s a total mobilisation of society.”