British officers in HK police could face torture charges in UK court

Riot policemen arresting protesters during a rally in Hong Kong last December. (AP pic)

LONDON: Senior British officers in the Hong Kong police force could face legal action in the UK on torture charges after activists said Monday they planned to proceed with a private prosecution.

The expatriate officers are accused of directly engaging in torture against pro-democracy demonstrators, or directing others within the force to carry out the crimes.

Torture has allegedly been carried out in police stations and on the streets, with a specific incident cited at Hong Kong’s Citic Tower during protests in June 2019.

The prosecution is being brought by a team of prominent activists and lawyers, who are using a JustGiving page to try and raise £200,000 to employ a full-time legal team.

They say the prosecution can be carried out in London as torture is an offence which has universal jurisdiction under British law.

“The people of Hong Kong have suffered sustained brutality at the hands of the Hong Kong Police Force,” said Luke de Pulford, a member of the human rights group, Hong Kong Watch.

“Despite clear evidence of excessive force, no officer has been disciplined. Many of those officers are British, and as such, they are subject to British law.”

None of the officers — who de Pulford called “notorious” — have been named.

The group bringing the prosecution claim three of the six Hong Kong regional commander police posts are filled by British nationals, who were installed just before former the colonial power handed the territory over to the Chinese.

Important initiative

Another of those trying to bring about the prosecution is Nathan Law, a young democracy activist who recently fled to London from Hong Kong after China imposed a controversial security law on the territory in June.

“This is a very important initiative because this is one of the very few ways we can hold the Hong Kong police accountable,” Law told reporters in a webinar on Monday.

The security law was introduced to quell widespread and often violent pro-democracy protests, sparking criticism from Western nations, including the UK, and sanctions from the US.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson subsequently offered visas to millions of Hong Kong residents after the law was introduced.

The legal action, if it goes ahead, will be led by London-based lawyers Edmunds Marshall McMahon, which describes itself as the “only specialist private prosecution law firm” in the country.

Under British law, the activists will have to get permission from the Attorney-General, the chief legal advisor to the UK government, to proceed.

The group say they have the backing of several MPs which could place a further strain on relations between London and Beijing.

The two have clashed in recent weeks over China’s rule in the former colony, with Liu Xiaoming Beijing’s envoy to London, claiming the rows have “poisoned” ties between the countries.

This followed Britain banning Chinese telecoms giant Huawei from its 5G network earlier this year

In response, China called the UK, “America’s dupe”.