Rights Group Alarmed as Hong Kong Police Stock Up On Anti-riot Gear Ahead of WTO Meeting

Original Publication Date: 
15 February, 2005

A rights group expressed fears Wednesday that security personnel might use excessive force against anti-globalization protesters at a World Trade Organization meeting in Hong Kong, as the territory's police stocked up on riot control equipment.

The Police Tactical Unit has ordered rubber bullets and lead-filled bean bags, Commandant Suen Kwai-leung said. The thumb-sized bean bags are fired from guns and, like rubber bullets, are intended to be non-lethal.

'The goal is to have ammunition that is slightly harmful,' Suen told The Associated Press.

Hong Kong is scheduled to host the latest round of WTO negotiations Dec.
13-18 aimed at reducing tariffs and subsidies, and to agree on a treaty that will take effect in 2006.

Anti-globalization demonstrations have turned violent at WTO meetings in other locations. Although several large pro-democracy rallies have taken place in Hong Kong in recent years, they have always remained peaceful.

Suen said the new anti-riot equipment, which Hong Kong police will be using for the first time, was necessary to bring the police force up to international standards. He declined to specify how much ammunition the police had ordered.

Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor Director Law Yuk-kai said he was concerned that police might resort to their new gear too readily.

'It can get dangerous it they don't use discretion,' he said, noting that the bean bags and rubber bullets could inflict serious injuries.

Suen said officers would be ordered to carefully target only violent demonstrators. He said at least 800 police officer would be deployed at the meeting.

In 1999, WTO talks in Seattle collapsed following five days of anti-globalization riots that tarnished the city's image and cost US$3 million in damages. A 2001 Group of Eight summit in Genoa, Italy, was marred by violence in which police shot a 23-year-old protester dead, at least 200 people were injured and more than 300 arrested.

Hong Kong has already indicated it might impose an entry ban on known foreign demonstrators who could be planning to disrupt the meeting.
Police were gathering intelligence on anti-globalization groups.

Ministers from all 148 WTO member nations, thousands of negotiators, business representatives, pressure groups and journalists are expected at the Hong Kong meeting.