A police officer showed rare restraint during a court testimony on Wednesday, when he hesitated to read out what was on a protest flag that was waved during a demonstration last year.
The blasphemous words in question? “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time”—the sensitive phrase that the city’s Beijing-backed government has said could be illegal under the national security law.
According to Apple Daily, the court was trialing the case of a 21-year-old woman, surnamed Wong, over her involvement in a protest in Lan Kwai Fong on Halloween last year.
Lau Ka-shing, a senior inspector with the police force, recalled the events of the night. When the court played a video taken during the demonstration, he hesitated after being asked to read out the wording on a black flag as if reluctant to answer the question.
“Is it OK to say this? Because it might breach the national security law,” he responded with candor that, coming from a police officer, was uncharacteristically refreshing.
When pressed by the prosecution, he answered with a dither: “‘Liberate Hong Kong,’ ‘time,’ and then the word ‘revolution.’” (The phrase “revolution of our time” is syntactically flipped in its original Cantonese iteration.)
The incident illustrates the air of anxiety that pervades the city’s courts, where even a member of the 30,000-strong Hong Kong Police Force—which found itself doing the government’s heavy-handed bidding since protests erupted last year—fears his words could incriminate him.
Last Halloween, protesters took the place of cosplaying revellers in Lan Kwai Fong, chanting protest slogans and swearing at officers who were on stand by.
Police set up checkpoints in the area and, after declaring the crowd an “unlawful assembly,” fired tear gas into the nightlife district.
Lau testified that Wong shined a laser light into his eyes, causing them to feel dry and itchy. He denied that he might be identifying the wrong person.
He also said that police needed to step in and disperse the crowd that night for fear that a stampede would break out on the narrow streets.
Subscribe to The Coconuts Podcast for top trending news and pop culture from Southeast Asia and Hong Kong.