As the conflict between Hong Kong protestors and the police intensified, the officers started using tear gas. Till now, more than 1,800 rounds of tear gas have been fired against the protestors.
Tear gas against citizens
Hong Kong police argue that they are compelled to use tear gas because protestors have turned more violent. However, a review of multiple video footage by The New York Times showed that in most cases where police fired tear gas, the protestors were largely non-violent and non-provoking.
Jim Bueermann, former president of the Police Foundation in Washington, believes the actions of Hong Kong police are condemnable. “This is ridiculous… I would find this to be completely unacceptable under American standards…. You are now taking a less-lethal tool, the tear gas, and making it a potentially lethal object,” he said to The New York Times.
The police have fired tear gas canisters not just on public roads, but also residential areas, transport hubs, and elderly homes. According to safety guidelines set by the manufacturers, tear gas is not supposed to be launched indoors, as the constrained space would concentrate the gas and trigger health issues in people caught inside. For those suffering from conditions like asthma, being trapped inside an enclosed space and inhaling the gas is a nightmare. Hong Kong police are known to have fired tear gas inside train stations. On August 11, they shot tear gas into the Kwai Fong MTR station in a bid to remove protestors from the area.
“Protesters are always supposed to be able to get away from the smoke, and the smoke is always supposed to be able to evaporate and be ephemeral… Firing tear gas in an enclosed location like an MTR station is highly dangerous. It can make the tear gas more potent because there are less air and fewer escape routes. This can lead to more severe health effects, as well as trampling, stampeding and other confined-space injuries,” Dr. Anna Feigenbaum, author of the book Tear Gas, said to the South China Morning Post.
The UN has also taken notice of the use of tear gas by authorities in Hong Kong. Michele Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has asked Hong Kong officials not to use any hard measures against the protestors that might result in civilian casualties. According to a spokesperson, Rupert Colville, Bachelet is apparently alarmed by the “dangerous” and “forbidden” methods being employed by the police to control demonstrators.
“OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) has reviewed credible evidence of law enforcement officials employing less-lethal weapons in ways that are prohibited by international norms and standards… For example, officials can be seen firing tear gas canisters into crowded, enclosed areas and directly at individual protesters on multiple occasions, creating a considerable risk of death or serious injury,” he said in a statement (OHCHR).
UN guidelines clearly state that security forces must only use tear gas as a last resort when there is an imminent threat to life or property. The canisters are also expected to be fired at a high angle. The organization has asked Hong Kong officials to ensure that their police force is complying with these conditions when dealing with protestors.