After an hour-long stand-off in front of police headquarters in Hong Kong, officers allowed more than 100 protesters to enter the station in groups to file reports on the alleged police beating of political activist Ken Tsang Kin-chiu.
In the most violent police raid on Hong Kong protest zones yet, 45 people were arrested early Wednesday morning as officers tore down barricades and pepper-sprayed and dragged activists away.
Hong Kong authorities also vowed to conduct an investigation into Tsang's alleged police beating, after video footage surfaced Tuesday that showed the pro-democracy organizer being handcuffed, dragged into a dark street corner, and kicked and punched on the ground by several officers, while others stood guard.
"Police express concern over the video clip showing several plainclothes officers who are suspected of using excessive force," the Hong Kong Information Services Department said in a statement Wednesday morning. "Police have already taken immediate actions and will conduct investigation impartially."
Larry Kwok, chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), a police watchdog, said after protesters entered the station that the IPCC has asked its Serious Complaints Committee to follow up on the case.
Tsang is a member of the Civic Party and was one of 45 people arrested early Wednesday morning after protesters attempted to put up new barricades across a major intersection around Lung Wo Road in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong, one of the central protest bases in the movement.
"Hong Kong police have gone insane today, carrying out their own punishment in private," pro-democracy lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan told the Associated Press. "Hong Kong's values and its rule of law really have been completely destroyed by police chiefs."
Human rights groups said the police involved in the illegal beating must face justice. "This appears to be a vicious attack against a detained man who posed no threat to the police," said Mabel Au, Director of Amnesty International Hong Kong. "Any investigation into this incident must be carried out promptly and all individuals involved in unlawful acts must be prosecuted."
"It is stomach-churning to think there are Hong Kong police officers that feel they are above the law," Au said.
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One of the groups organizing the protests, Occupy Central With Love and Peace, circulated photos of bruises and scratches on Tsang’s face, back, neck, and arms. Another organizing body, The Hong Kong Federation of Students, demanded the resignation of Police Commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hunh.
Police spokesman Steve Hui said seven officers who were involved have been temporarily reassigned.
Tsang’s arrest came as officers armed with riot shields and batons violently attempted to break up the sit-in on Lung Wo Road, tearing down barricades and knocking activists to the ground, arresting dozens for unlawful assembly, which Amnesty said was in violation of their civil rights.
"All those being held solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly must be immediately and unconditionally released," said Au.
The central government has condemned the movement and blamed protesters for slowing down business in the region’s bustling financial district. Hong Kong’s current representative in government, Chief Executive C.Y. Leung, who has refused to step down from the position despite repeated demands from the pro-democracy activists, told protesters last week that they have "almost zero chance" of securing free elections for the semi-autonomous city.
After two weeks of unsuccessfully battling large crowds of protesters, police have switched tactics, instead removing barricades on the edges of the occupied zones in the early mornings, when the crowds are usually at their smallest.
Protesters have been occupying major business and government districts since late September after Beijing announced that it would not allow universal suffrage in Hong Kong’s upcoming 2017 elections.
Early hopes that the conflict could be resolved were thwarted last Thursday when talks between the protesters and government officials were cancelled.