Foreign Experts Exit Hong Kong Police Probe After Disputes

Iain Marlow and Blake Schmidt
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Foreign Experts Exit Hong Kong Police Probe After Disputes

(Bloomberg) -- A panel of international experts advising Hong Kong’s police watchdog announced it would withdraw from a review of officers’ conduct, a move that will likely bolster criticism of the city’s response to protesters demands.

The group of overseas experts advising Hong Kong’s Independent Police Complaints Council said in a statement Wednesday they would “stand aside” after disagreements over the need for more powers to investigate police behavior during four months of unrest. The “dialogue with the IPCC has not led to any agreed process” in which the panel could continue to support the review of police actions, the International Experts Panel said.

“We ultimately concluded that a crucial shortfall was evident in the powers, capacity and independent investigative capability of IPCC,” the group said. “As a result, the IEP has taken the decision to formally stand aside from its role. As a group, we remain committed to supporting and engaging with the IPCC, if and when it develops the necessary capabilities and provides its draft interim report on the protests.”

The withdrawal of the panel -- led by Denis O’Connor, the former chief inspector of constabulary for England and Wales -- will likely spur more criticism of the government’s decision not to appoint a formal commission of inquiry led by judges. The agency said officers have used a reasonable amount of force despite protester accusations of police brutality and condemnation by foreign governments and human rights groups, including Amnesty International.

With the government refusing to meet protesters’ demands, including a restart to electoral demands, the police have found themselves in increasingly violent confrontations with demonstrators. The police believe they were the intended targets of two homemade bombs defused Monday at a Catholic school in the Wan Chai area, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported, citing people it didn’t identify.

Council Criticism

The IPCC said in a statement it “deeply appreciates” the panel’s work and was pleased the experts wanted to remain engaged. IPCC Chairman Anthony Neoh acknowledged the criticism that the agency lacks full investigative powers, but said the council had to push forward with its study under the existing framework.

The panel’s decision to withdraw came after after Neoh criticized it in an interview with a mainland Chinese TV station, saying “They don’t understand well our current situation.” “I already told them, ‘Thank you for your opinions. But we must work in accordance with the laws,’” Neoh told Shenzhen TV, according to Radio Television Hong Kong.

There were 1,386 complaints filed against the police between June 9 and Dec. 10, according to the IPCC’s website, although protesters argue many grievances go unreported due to fear of retribution or lack of confidence in the panel.

In early November, Clifford Stott, a member of the panel and a professor at Keele University in the U.K., said on Twitter there was a need to “substantially enhance IPCC capacity.”

“Given the scale of events in Hong Kong it remains to be seen whether a light touch, oversight body like the IPCC, can make sufficient progress to produce any decisive contribution to an account of developments, that might enable necessary policy changes in policing practice,” the independent expert panel said Nov. 8.

--With assistance from Melissa Cheok.

To contact the reporters on this story: Iain Marlow in Hong Kong at imarlow1@bloomberg.net;Blake Schmidt in Hong Kong at bschmidt16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net, Ruth Pollard

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