Britain has given training and “support” to the Hong Kong police force condemned for shooting, beating and teargassing protesters, The Independent can reveal.
UK ministers were among those who appealed for moderation during months of rallies last year, when officers were accused of torturing demonstrators and making arbitrary arrests.
Hong Kong has seen a fresh crackdown in recent days as authorities seek to quash protests over the imposition of a Chinese security law on the territory, with pepper pellets fired into crowds and hundreds of arrests made.
A Freedom of Information (FoI) request has revealed that the College of Policing – the professional body for police in England and Wales – has been working with the Hong Kong authorities to train its officers amid the protests.
It refused to give any further detail on the support that was offered last year, citing an exemption over “international relations”.
The College of Policing has also given training to American forces in the past, listing the US as a recipient of “international policing assistance” on its website.
The British government is being urged to suspend the sales of teargas, rubber bullets and riot shields amid concerns that US police are using them in protests sparked by the death of George Floyd.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade, which submitted the FoI request, said the College of Policing had been working with “incredibly abusive police forces around the world”.
Andrew Smith, of Campaign Against Arms Trade, said: “The Hong Kong authorities have acted appallingly over recent weeks and during the wider crackdown.
“The widespread violence and the use of teargas and other weapons against protesters must be condemned in the strongest terms.
“Torture is never acceptable, and nor is working hand-in-glove with those that commit it.”
Amnesty International said it had documented “widespread human rights abuses” by police in the city, including beatings, torture and the misuse of teargas.
Oliver Feeley-Sprague, Amnesty’s police programme director, said: “Serious questions need to be asked about the role of the British College of Policing in training the Hong Kong police during this period. If these programmes were supposed to improve the human rights situation in Hong Kong, they’ve manifestly failed to do so.
“We’ve long argued that the provision of police and other security training should be subject to the same level of regulation as the sale of arms and security equipment, and that approval should be refused for any training that could clearly risk facilitating the sorts of abuses we are currently documenting in Hong Kong.”
During violent demonstrations in June last year, the government paused export licences on crowd-control equipment for Hong Kong police after it emerged that British-made CS grenades, crowd-control ammunition and riot shields were being used.
In September, a group of United Nations human rights experts sounded the alarm over attacks on demonstrators, and arrests of activists and human rights defenders.
A Hong Kong official revealed that during the first five months of unrest, police seized more than 3,700 phones from protesters and examined them.
Last month, Hong Kong’s Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) released a report on the response to the protests that was condemned as a whitewash.
The report, which cited College of Policing guidance numerous times, admitted that police had used live ammunition on at least 12 occasions and had shot several protesters.
However, it hit out at “blatant propaganda” over brutality and concluded: “The use of force by the police has been in reaction to illegal action by protesters and for protection of themselves and others when attacked by violent protesters.”
Torture is never acceptable, and nor is working hand-in-glove with those that commit it
Andrew Smith, Campaign Against Arms Trade
Addressing the House of Commons on Tuesday, Dominic Raab said the British government had “called for a fully independent investigation in relation to police treatment of the protesters”.
The foreign secretary announced that the government would look to provide a “pathway to citizenship” for British national (overseas) passport holders in Hong Kong if China passes the new security law.
Hong Kong’s police force was listed among those in 19 foreign countries that were given training and support by the College of Policing in 2019.
Other nations included Egypt, Bahrain and Rwanda, where police have also been accused of brutality and human rights abuses.
The College of Policing has made almost £20m from international training since 2013, with the bulk of income coming from “behavioural skills” programmes mostly aimed at police leaders.
It also offers coaching on “technical skills”, including organised crime and counter-terrorism, uniformed operations and professional standards.
Deputy Chief Constable Bernie O’Reilly, of the College of Policing, said all international work was assessed “against British values and in the context of maintaining UK security” by a cross-government body.
”All training delivered by the College of Policing is consistent with the British model of policing by consent and respect for human rights and dignity is interwoven into our courses,” he added.
“The College is transparent about its international work and publishes details online for the public to see the countries where international assistance is provided, the overall amount of money received and a list of the areas where the College assists.”
Hong Kong is an administrative region of China, which is among 30 “priority countries” listed by the Foreign Office over human rights concerns.
Four other countries on the list – Bahrain, Colombia, Egypt and Pakistan – also had training from the College of Policing.
The other countries and regions where training was provided in 2019 were Australia, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Nova Scotia, Oman, Peru, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Ukraine and the western Balkans.
Countries offered training by British police in the past include the United Arab Emirates, Libya and Sudan.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade said the College of Police programmes were part of a “wider foreign policy” of support for abusive regimes.
“This policy of political support and collaboration risks providing moral cover for abusive forces and helping them to become more effective instruments of repression,” Mr Smith added.
“If the government cares about the rights and lives of activists being targeted by authoritarian forces in Hong Kong, Bahrain and beyond, then it must end its political and military support for those that are responsible for the abuses.”
The National Police Chiefs’ Council said training is overseen by the multi-agency Joint International Policing Hub.
“Before any endorsement of overseas non-operational police assistance, a robust assurance process is carried out,” a spokesperson said.
“This includes a strict risk assessment by HM government’s Overseas Security and Justice Assistance, which considers human rights, international law and political issues.
“Government agencies and departments including the Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office are consulted during the process.”