- Force expresses ‘indignation’ and ‘regret’ at opposition legislator who claimed it had hoarded 640,000 surgical masks and 13,000 N95 respirators
- It also complains to government-run TV station over satirical programme which made similar allegations
Hong Kong's police force on Sunday rejected allegations that it had stockpiled tens of thousands of surgical masks and other gear to protect officers from coronavirus infection while doctors and nurses' supplies run low, saying it only had enough masks to last a few weeks.
It also hit out at opposition legislator Kwok Ka-ki, accusing him of spreading misinformation, while asking the head of government-run media station RTHK to look into a TV programme aired on Friday, which included similar suggestions of police abuse of medical gear.
Kwok, in response, said he had only made comments based on what was reported in the news, while the RTHK Programme Staff Union accused the police of disrespecting the station's editorial independence and professionalism.
Face coverings have become highly sought after since the contagion hit Hong Kong, with residents lining up for hours to replenish their supplies. Government supplies have also run short, including at stretched public hospitals.
At the centre of the row was a video that Kwok uploaded to his Facebook page on Saturday, in which he claimed that police had stockpiled 640,000 surgical masks and 13,000 N95 respirators, but still intended to take acquire 64,000 more of the face coverings in the next two months.
Kwok said the force did not deserve to be given so many as there had been a shortage even in public hospitals. In the video, he referred the police as "black cops" and "cowards", saying they would "do anything to save their necks".
In a video uploaded on the force's official Facebook page the next day, Superintendent Louis Lau Siu-pong rejected Kwok's allegation, saying the force's stock of N95 masks was only enough for frontline officers' use for a week.
"Our officers are sent to guard quarantine centres and also stationed at various checkpoints to enforce the quarantine order, as well as helping conduct on-the-spot checks of those under mandatory quarantine at home," Lau said.
He also rejected allegations of cowardice, saying the real cowards were people who "have hid behind computer screens to make provocative allegations".
In a letter to Kwok, dated Sunday, Chief Superintendent Kwok Ka-chuen of the police public relations branch expressed "indignation" and "regret" at the legislator's allegations.
In the letter, police said: "As a veteran lawmaker and a medical professional, you however make unfounded allegations against the police without having the information verified. This is misleading and also disregards the work and efforts by police officers in the anti-epidemic work."
In response to the police criticism, Kwok Ka-ki said on Sunday: "The government did not make any immediate public clarification after the news came out. Even the police did not say how many masks or protective clothes they have been given, except saying the numbers reported by the media were wrong.
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"My role as a lawmaker is to monitor the government. It is my responsibility to point out problems," he said. "But the police move seems to give people an impression that they do not accept any criticism and they do not need to be accountable to the public."
Over the weekend, meanwhile, the police also wrote to the director of broadcasting Leung Ka-wing to complain about Friday's episode of its satirical current affairs TV programme Headliner, in which suggestions were made that the police had stockpiled more than enough protective gear.
In a letter to Leung on Saturday, Chief Superintendent Kwok said the force expressed "extreme regret" about the episode, and asked Leung to look into the issue.
The RTHK Programme Staff Union argued the police should respect the station's professionalism and editorial independence.
An RTHK spokesman said: "RTHK understands the hard work of the police and other departments during the epidemic. Headliner just expressed the social situation in a satirical manner based on current voices and points of views in the society."
The police have in recent months taken a tougher approach in hitting back at criticism.
Last month it wrote to opposition lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching, blaming her for making false accusations about its handling of a New Year's Day march during an interview with an overseas news outlet.
Last December the force wrote to RTHK complaining that it tried to "mislead" listeners by using incorrect wording in its coverage of a protest in Edinburgh Place. In the report, RTHK news said protesters "hit back" at police officers by hurling water bottles at officers. Police said that implied the police had proactively used force against the protesters in the first place, something they denied.
Last month, about 100 people gathered outside RTHK's Kowloon Tong headquarters to protest against what they viewed as anti-government bias in its programmes, calling the station an "accomplice" of the demonstrators.
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