Teenage protester Tsang Chi-kin, who was shot in the chest by a Hong Kong police officer, was charged with assault and rioting today (Oct. 3) as he lay in hospital, his lawyer confirmed to Quartz.
The police say he was among a group of protesters who carried out a “riotous attack” on officers with iron bars on Oct. 1, China’s National Day, and did not retreat despite a verbal warning. Hong Kong police commissioner Stephen Lo said the armed officer’s actions were “reasonable” and “lawful.”
Soon after, videos of the incident circulated online. They show a melée between protesters and police in an alley, where the officer opened fire at close range. The protester fell back onto the ground and cried out that his chest was in pain. The bullet entered close to his heart, and he underwent surgery for a collapsed lung. Impromptu protests took place throughout the day yesterday in anger over the shooting. A Hong Kong doctor also criticized police for taking three minutes, according to the video footage, to attend to the teen as they tackled other protesters.
Tsang is the first protester shot in Hong Kong since demonstrations began in June in opposition to a proposed bill that would have allowed suspects to be sent from the territory to the mainland to face trial. For many, the law appeared the fiercest attack yet on Hong Kong’s prized autonomy from the authoritarianism and opaque legal system of the mainland. The bill has since been suspended, and is set to be withdrawn, but the protests have now broadened to include demands for democracy and an independent inquiry into police actions.
Some 1,500 people have been arrested—269 of them on Tuesday alone—since the protests started, some as young as 12. Dozens of people have been charged with rioting, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years in jail.
In recent days, there have been multiple complaints of excessive behavior by a Hong Kong police force that appears to be overwhelmed after months of dealing with demonstrations, and widespread hatred and taunts from the public. At the weekend, police shot an Indonesian journalist in the eye with a rubber bullet. Police say they are doing their best to restore order as violence, including Molotov cocktails and smashed windows, increases from protesters.
According to local media, police circulated an internal memo on Sept. 30 that appears to relax guidelines for discharging a weapon—allowing police to use live rounds when serious injury or death is likely. An earlier version required police to determine whether an assailant intends to cause such harm before firing.
Police associations and pro-Beijing groups called for stricter measures to restore law and order, and multiple reports say the city is planning to use emergency powers to bring in a ban on the use of face masks at public gatherings as soon as tomorrow—a proposal raised by China’s highest office for Hong Kong affairs last month.