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Fear has made me stronger: Hong Kong bookseller
By Michelle YUN
Taipei (AFP) Feb 14, 2017

Hong Kong police guilty over attack on democracy protester
Hong Kong (AFP) Feb 14, 2017 - Seven Hong Kong police officers were found guilty Tuesday of assaulting a protester during pro-democracy rallies in 2014, in an attack that was captured on film and beamed around the world.

All seven were convicted of assault causing actual bodily harm to Civic Party activist Ken Tsang, but were acquitted of a more serious charge of grievous bodily harm with intent.

Video footage of the attack, filmed by a local network near the city's government headquarters, shocked residents and dented their faith in the usually trusted police fore.

It showed a group of men hauling a handcuffed Tsang to a dark corner in a public park, where he was beaten. One man stood over him inflicting blows while others were seen repeatedly kicking him.

Police have been criticised for their sometimes heavy-handed treatment of protesters during the 79 days of rallies and street blockades that brought parts of the city to a standstill.

The demonstrators were seeking fully free elections for Hong Kong's future leaders.

Hong Kong's district court found that one officer had stamped on 41-year-old Tsang and hit him with a baton, causing circular reddish bruises.

Four other officers kicked him while two other officers did not participate but watched.

"Every police officer has a duty to prevent the commission of a crime, even by fellow police officers," judge David Dufton said in a press summary of the verdict.

It added that Tsang suffered injuries to his face, neck and body during the assault.

"The court was not however satisfied these injuries amounted to grievous bodily harm but was satisfied they amounted to actual bodily harm," the press statement said.

The charge carries a maximum sentence of three years.

One of the officers who kicked Tsang was also found guilty of common assault for slapping him in the face twice after he was taken to a police station.

- 'Human frailty' -

Following the verdict, a lawyer for the defence said in mitigation that the protests had dented police morale, with a number of officers injured.

"Human frailty resulted in the transgression of seven devoted police officers," Lawrence Lok told the court.

He said defendant Wong Cho-shing, one of those who watched the attack, had worked long hours during the protests and faced physical and verbal abuse from demonstrators.

Mitigation continued Tuesday afternoon and a sentencing hearing was set for Friday. The officers will be remanded in custody in the meantime.

Tsang was not in court for Tuesday's verdict and told AFP he won't comment on the case until after Friday's sentencing.

The social worker was himself found guilty last year of assaulting and resisting officers on the same night, when he splashed an unspecified liquid on police. He was given a five-week sentence and has said he will appeal.

He has always argued that police brought assault charges against him to distract from the case against them.

Rival protesters gathered outside the court Tuesday, with pro-police supporters outnumbering a small group of democracy demonstrators.

Using loudspeakers they chanted: "Support the seven officers" and "Reasonable enforcement of the law".

Nearly 1,000 people were arrested over the course of the 2014 protests.

Rally leaders Nathan Law, Joshua Wong and Alex Chow were all convicted in August for taking part in, or inciting others to take part in, an unlawful protest that led up to the major demonstrations.

They were given community service or suspended sentences after the magistrate said she believed they had been "genuinely expressing their views" during the protest, which saw students climb over a fence into the Hong Kong government complex.

The disappearance of a Chinese billionaire from his Hong Kong hotel has brought back frightening memories for bookseller Lam Wing-kee, who also went missing in an ordeal that highlighted Beijing's tightening grip on the city.

Lam is one of five Hong Kong publishers who vanished at the end of 2015 and resurfaced across the border in mainland China. He returned to Hong Kong on bail after eight months in detention and refuses to go back.

The booksellers' case sparked international outrage and fuelled concern that Beijing is threatening the semi-autonomous city's freedoms.

Those fears were reignited last month when Chinese tycoon Xiao Jianhua disappeared from his apartment at the Four Seasons hotel, with reports he was snatched by mainland security agents. His whereabouts are still unknown.

Lam says both he and Xiao were political targets.

"It is 100 percent certain the Communist Party is behind it," he said in an interview in Taipei, where he was visiting a book fair.

Lam and the other four booksellers were known for publishing salacious titles about the Chinese leadership and ran a store stocked with books banned over the border.

In Xiao's case, there is widespread speculation that he has been caught up in an anti-corruption drive by Chinese President Xi Jinping, which some critics believe has been a tool to target his political opponents.

The Xiao incident has renewed Lam's fears about remaining in Hong Kong.

"Yes, I worry (about my safety). Every Hong Kong person should worry," the 62-year-old told AFP.

But he added: "I love Hong Kong. I want to stay in Hong Kong. I will never leave. I will speak out even if it means going to jail."

- Enduring trauma -

Lam was allowed back to Hong Kong last June on condition that he pick up a hard disc listing bookstore customers and return to the mainland.

Instead he skipped bail and went public to tell an explosive story of how he was blindfolded by mainland police after crossing the border, and interrogated for months.

Hong Kong has a separate legal system under the "one country, two systems" deal struck when Britain returned the city to China in 1997 and is not obliged to hand Lam back even if he is violating the terms of his bail.

Lam says he became suicidal during his detention and daily life is still not easy.

He wears a face mask to help shield his identity and alternates between the eight entrances to the residential complex where he lives.

While visiting Taiwan last week, he was protected by police security after pro-Beijing protesters attempted to attack prominent Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong during a recent trip to the island.

Lam says he is no longer involved in the book trade, but writes columns for local Hong Kong media on a voluntary basis.

There are still moments when his time in detention comes back to haunt him.

He told AFP he was spooked on spotting a plain-clothes policeman waiting for him at Taipei airport on his arrival.

"I thought he could be a mainland security agent," Lam says.

Three of the other booksellers who were detained have been freed, but Lam says he is not in touch with them out of concern for their safety, believing they are still under surveillance.

The fifth bookseller Gui Minhai -- who disappeared in Thailand -- is still in detention.

But while Lam may have to look over his shoulder for the rest of his life, he says in some ways the trauma of his detention has made it easier to cope with its aftermath.

"When one loses freedom, and then regains it, any problem one faces after that will seem small," he told AFP.

"I just kept thinking about what I went through, which was hundreds, thousands of times worse than this."

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