A student protester who was shot at close range by a Hong Kong police officer remained in a critical but non-life threatening condition on Monday night, as critics and the force crossed swords over whether disproportionate force had been used.
A station sergeant shot the 21-year-old college student, surnamed Chow, in the abdomen at a road crossing in Sai Wan Ho at 7.20am following a confrontation. Chow is the third protester shot with live ammunition since anti-government protests broke out five months ago.
While video footage showed the unarmed black-clad Chow approaching the officer, police accused him of trying to snatch the sergeant's pistol, which prompted the shot.
He was sent to Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital in Chai Wan in critical condition after the bullet damaged his right kidney and liver.
His condition stabilised but was still categorised as critical after he underwent an operation to remove the bullet, the kidney and part of his liver. He remained in the intensive care unit.
A source said Chow was sedated throughout Monday. But if his condition improved on Tuesday, he would be taken off the sedation.
Chow attends the Chai Wan campus of the Institute of Vocational Education, its operator, the Vocational Training Council, confirmed in a statement. The institute has written to the Security Bureau urging it to thoroughly investigate the matter, the statement said.
Campus principal Winnie Ngan Shuk-yin headed to the hospital shortly after the incident and expressed her sympathy to his family, it said, adding that Chow's parents, as well as the wider public, needed explanations as soon as possible.
Chow is an alumnus of Salesian English School in Shau Kei Wan. Its founding organisation, the Salesians of Don Bosco, issued a statement expressing concern over police's use of "killing weapons" in the past few months.
"We are saddened, and we severely condemn the police for their disrespect of life. We also demand the government respond to people's demands, and launch an independent inquiry," it said, while also calling on young protesters to remain rational and refrain from using violence.
A prayer meeting was held at Salesian Missionary House on Monday night.
If he can be charged with unlawful assembly just for passing by, I think this is serious and unscrupulousAndrew Cheng, solicitor
An online clip, which captured the incident on Tai On Street, showed the station sergeant had chased a few protesters from a road crossing to a pavement. But when he turned to leave, a masked protester in white approached him, prompting him to draw his service revolver.
The protester raised his arms briefly to show his palms. The sergeant pressed the firearm against the protester's chest before trying to subdue him.
Chow was shot when he walked towards them. After that, the sergeant fired two more shots, which did not hit anyone, while locked in a struggle with another black-clad protester.
Hong Kong Island regional commander Patrick Kwok Pak-chung said the sergeant was facing a wider group of five or six protesters, one of whom was brandishing what looked like a metal bar.
The footage showed a masked man in a black hoodie wielding a white bar-like object, but he was watching from afar and did not engage in any action during the confrontation.
Kwok said Chow's action also constituted a threat. "His footsteps might seem steady, but you can see the action of his right hand, that he was trying to snatch the gun," he said, as he played the clip during a police press conference.
Footage showed Chow held out his right hand and moved sideways slightly, before placing it near his thigh. He was then shot.
An online version showed a police officer in riot gear later sat on Chow as he appeared motionless on the road. The officer lifted him up by pushing the back of his neck against the ground, a move that drew criticism that it may have worsened Chow's injury.
Kwok initially denied such an episode occurred by playing a clip showing Chow springing up and sprinting away. But after being challenged by reporters, Kwok later pledged the case would be thoroughly investigated.
The full clip showed Chow lay stationary for about five minutes before he sat up and later tried to run away, the part Kwok and his colleagues played. Chow did not make it far before being stopped.
Solicitor and former lawmaker Andrew Cheng Kar-foo, who was approached by Chow's parents and his former secondary school principal for help, said he understood that the student might be charged with unlawful assembly.
"If he can be charged with unlawful assembly just for passing by, I think this is serious and unscrupulous," Cheng said, adding that Chow was on his way to check a Lennon Wall in Sai Wan Ho.
Cheng also represents Woo Tsz-kin, a 19-year-old protester who was at the scene where the gunshot occurred. He said Woo might face more serious charges, such as allegedly trying to snatch an officer's gun.
He said Woo was asked to give a statement without the presence of a lawyer.
A 19-year-old, who gave his name as Rigan, was Chow's classmate when they studied for a diploma of foundation studies in hospitality in the previous school year. He was in the hospital for Chow.
He described Chow as an "optimistic" and "not impulsive" person, who is willing to help others.
Rigan also said Chow regularly posts on social media about current affairs.
Lashing out at police, he said: "The footage showed that Chow did not attack any police officers, but still he was shot."
At a "citizens' press conference", organised regularly by a group claiming to represent protesters, a spokesman called the shooting "absolutely disproportionate" and "totally unnecessary" as he accused police of lacking respect for humanity.
Meanwhile, a traffic policeman was suspended from duty and ordered to take leave after he drove his motorcycle into protesters in Kwai Chung at about 8am.
Chief Superintendent John Tse Chun-chung of the police public relations branch said a protester sprayed an unknown liquid at an officer's face causing temporary loss of vision.
Later, the traffic policeman drove his motorcycle to approach the site to render assistance "in an attempt to separate rioters and police officers", he said.
During the process, the officer was attacked with a hammer.
"We understand that this is a serious matter. We accord high priority to this case. The officer has been suspended from frontline duties immediately. He has been ordered to take leave immediately," he said.
"If any misconduct or criminal element arises, police will certainly follow up."
Additional reporting by Victor Ting
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