- Revelation comes day after five-member panel stands aside from ongoing probe, saying dialogue ‘has not led to any agreed process’
- Vice-chairman of Independent Police Complaints Council Tony Tse says it was felt that it was inappropriate to allow panel to comment at this stage
Hong Kong's police watchdog snubbed a request by a panel of international experts to comment on a preliminary investigation report on the force's handling of months of anti-government protests, the Post has learned.
The revelation came after a five-member panel announced it was to "stand aside" from the Independent Police Complaints Council's ongoing probe on Thursday, saying their dialogue "has not led to any agreed process".
Critics said the bombshell cast doubts over the credibility of the IPCC's investigation, especially after the experts proposed giving the watchdog more power to launch a full investigation into officers' conduct during the protests triggered by a now-withdrawn extradition bill.
The IPCC is currently investigating the handling of major protests on June 9 and 12, July 1, August 1 and 31, as well as a mob attack on demonstrators and passengers at Yuen Long MTR station on July 21.
But an "interim" report, due to be published in late January, would only focus on three dates: June 9 and 12 and July 1. It was unclear when the rest of the investigation would be completed.
Tony Tse Wai-chuen, vice-chairman of the IPCC, said some members of the panel, made up of policing experts from Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, had their views about the report, including the issue of giving the watchdog the power to subpoena documents and witnesses.
But Tse said the council felt it was inappropriate to allow the panel to comment at this stage, especially when the experts had reservations about the strength of IPCC's investigatory power.
"We can't wait forever for comments to come back and then (ponder on) whether we should adopt them," Tse said. "We just don't have time."
According to Tse, the panel's request for a schedule of the next round of investigation was also declined.
The experts said in a previous statement that they would be ready to support the IPCC, "if and when it develops the necessary capabilities and provides its interim report on the protests, confrontations and policing of events between June and September 2019".
An IPCC spokesman said the interim report was not complete and would be available for the panel to comment when it was ready. All five panel members have either declined to comment further or not responded to requests for a reply.
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A separate source with knowledge of the situation said the IPCC was also wary about the risk of potential leaks.
Tse said he personally believed the panel should only be involved once the report was finalised and ready for publication, adding it had been agreed that the experts' views would be reflected.
A third source said the IPCC had originally said it would allow panel members to comment at the same time as watchdog members.
The government has rejected protesters' demands to set up an independent commission of inquiry into alleged police brutality during the demonstrations, saying the established mechanism of the IPCC should be tasked with the job.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said in November that she would also set up an independent review committee, drawing experts to look into the underlying political and socio-economic reasons behind the unrest.
Critics argued such a committee would not have the same powers to summon witnesses.
A government source said the committee would not be the same as a commission of inquiry and was not likely to be announced before Christmas. A separate political source said the government had found it difficult to recruit members to lead the committee.
Barrister Ronny Tong Ka-wah, an adviser in Lam's de facto cabinet, the Executive Council, said he believed the government was considering all options.
"An independent review committee and a commission of inquiry are not that different," he said. "But society's view is that you must deliver what we want. This is not a good way to solve conflict. I hope there will be an announcement after Lam's duty visit to Beijing."
Another Exco member, Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, said the committee, with or without the power to subpoena, was no solution to unrest.
"We should not encourage revenge … If we want to punish wrongdoing, we need to rely on our criminal justice system," Ip said.
Rather than dwelling on the power of the committees, more effort should be spent actually resolving social and economic issues, she added.
Additional reporting by Tony Cheung and Christy Leung
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