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2020 Feature, Large Newsroom finalist

In Hong Kong crackdown

Police repeatedly broke their own rules -- and faced no consequences

About the Project

What began in Hong Kong last summer as protests against proposed legislation that would allow for extraditions to mainland China mushroomed into a far broader movement as police moved to violently quell dissent. For a year, demonstrators took to the streets in what was the largest and most sustained pro-democracy movement in the territory’s history, posing an unprecedented threat to Chinese Communist Party rule.

Using tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and water cannons, the Hong Kong Police Force began a months-long campaign against its own population, hoping to put an end to the protests. Almost daily, reporters, student journalists and ordinary citizens captured police acting in a manner that was dangerous and disproportionate. Journalists were injured by officers, bystanders were harassed and arrested and peaceful protesters faced the same violent punishment from officers as ones taking more radical actions. The actions of officers shocked and stunned the city.

While numerous intentional rights groups had weighed in on police actions, their statements condemning the police force were dismissed and largely ignored, written off as outsiders meddling in Hong Kong’s foreign affairs. The Washington Post set out to produce a comprehensive investigation on police use of force, using the police force’s own guidelines. The first and most obvious roadblock was that these guidelines have never been made public, with the police force citing operational security as a reason for keeping them secret.

Through sources within the police department, Washington Post reporters were able to obtain these guidelines and set about reporting a piece that laid out in vivid detail the numerous ways in which police had violated their own rules and regulations. Despite these actions, no officers face repercussions, leading to a sense of impunity within the ranks of frontline officers, as detailed to Washington Post reporters by officers who were alarmed by their owns colleagues who had grown increasingly hostile and violent towards Hong Kong citizens.