HONG KONG — In a video that quickly transfixed and outraged many in Hong Kong and beyond, a group of police officers appeared to take a pro-democracy demonstrator into a dark corner early Wednesday and kick him repeatedly while his hands were bound.
The Civic Party, one of the main pro-democracy political parties in Hong Kong, identified the man as Ken Tsang, a party member and volunteer social worker who specializes in helping street children. Dennis Kwok, a Civic Party lawmaker and barrister, said that he was representing Tsang and that his client had been taken to Ruttonjee Hospital for an examination because he feared he had suffered internal injuries.
Kwok said that the police had also “slapped around’’ Tsang and that Tsang had been struck repeatedly with an object, possibly a police baton.
“He has severe bruises to his face, and he has also been kicked in the back and in the stomach,’’ Kwok said.
Pro-democracy lawyers met with “10 or 15’’ of the 45 people arrested by the police during the pre-dawn demonstration, and “five or six’’ of those also complained of having been slapped or punched. They initially did not appear to have been injured as severely as Tsang, Kwok said.
The video and pictures of Tsang’s bruised body have become a rallying point for critics of the government, and they could help energize the protest movement after a night of chaos and setbacks. The images have given a vivid personal face to an accusation that the protesters often make — that the government and its police force use unfair force.
The Hong Kong Police issued a statement late Wednesday morning about the incident.
“Police express concern over the video clip showing several plainclothes officers who are suspected of using excessive force this morning,’’ the statement said. “Police have already taken immediate actions and will conduct investigation impartially. The Complaints Against Police Office has already received a relevant complaint and will handle it in accordance with the established procedures in a just and impartial manner.’’
In a subsequent, broader statement that did not address the alleged beating directly, the police said that some unidentified protesters had “behaved in a disorderly manner including throwing objects from height, throwing traffic cones, placing objects such as drainage covers’’ on the road and trying to snatch steel police barriers. Four officers were injured, including one who was said to have been pushed to the ground by protesters and suffered a dislocated right shoulder and another who was allegedly poked in the corner of an eye by a protester’s umbrella.
Lai Tung-kwok, Hong Kong’s secretary of security, announced late Wednesday morning that six officers appearing in the video had been relieved of their usual duties. He did not say if they had been given other responsibilities.
Audrey Eu, the chairwoman of the Civic Party and also a member of the legislature, said the incident with Tsang had taken the party by surprise.
“At the Civic Party, we’ve all known him for a long time, and we are all shocked,’’ she said. “He’s actually quite a gentle soul.’’
Kwok said his client had been accused of unlawful assembly and of obstructing a police officer in the course of the officer’s duties. Under Hong Kong law, Tsang must be taken before a magistrate or released within 48 hours.
A video filmed by TVB, a usually pro-government television station, showed a bearded man in a black T-shirt being led away by officers in civilian clothes and black police vests, his hands behind him. The man in the video is virtually identical to Tsang’s Facebook picture. Eu and Kwok each said that Tsang’s hands had been bound with a plastic tie, a common police procedure in Hong Kong.
The video then jumps to a scene in which a man lying on the ground in a somewhat dark corner is kicked and hit many times by several police officers. TVB said the beating lasted about four minutes.
In an incident early in the demonstration that was also captured on local television, a man in a black T-shirt and wearing a surgical mask and goggles as protection against tear gas or pepper spray was seen standing on a wall and pouring water from a bottle onto officers below. Two other demonstrators then grabbed the man and prevented him from pouring any more, and appeared to have an argument with him.
The man’s black T-shirt was identical, with the same slogan on the front, to the T-shirt in the alleged police beating. Now TV, another local station, reported that Tsang was the man who poured the water.
Pro-democracy demonstrators, who have camped on main roads seeking fully open elections, quickly distributed the video of the alleged beating and said they were furious.
“It’s totally uncontrolled — they are no longer our police,’’ said Anthony Ho, a 54-year-old Internet technician, as he sat at a protest site in the Mong Kok neighborhood.
Political parties in Hong Kong have elaborate screening procedures before allowing someone to become a full member, to avoid being infiltrated by people who might either inform on their plans or carry out activities that might discredit the party. The Civic Party has only “a few hundred’’ full members, Eu said, and Tsang is one of them.
The incident drew strong denunciations from other pro-democracy lawmakers.
“The police should arrest the torture officers immediately,’’ James To, a Democratic Party legislator and a lawyer, said at a news conference Wednesday morning. “It’s a very clear case of serious assault, if not a torture act, so the police should immediately arrest the offenders.’’
The Hong Kong Police have had a highly professional image that dates from the territory’s days as a British colony until its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. The 28,000-strong police force still has about 100 British-born officers.
In the last year, however, Beijing has sent growing numbers of its own security officials to work closely with the local police, partly in preparation for dealing with democracy demonstrations like the ones that have nearly paralyzed large areas of this city’s core for more than two weeks. Mainland security officials have a reputation for much rougher tactics, but there was no evidence immediately available Wednesday morning that they were directly involved in the incident captured on the video.
Ronny Tong, a Civic Party legislator, said, “I thought a situation like this would only be seen in foreign countries, other societies — I didn’t expect to see it in Hong Kong.’’