WASHINGTON - Hong Kong is a "police state" where officers -- once dubbed "Asia's finest" -- are conducting abuses in the service of the city's pro-Beijing leadership, prominent voices in the global financial hub's weeks-long protest movement told AFP Saturday.
The comments came as riot police and demonstrators in Hong Kong fought brief skirmishes Saturday near the Chinese border.
They were the latest clashes during more than three months of demonstrations to protest stuttering freedoms in the semi-autonomous territory.
"Within these three-and-a-half months we have seen the police in Hong Kong getting totally out of control," activist and pop star Denise Ho said in an interview with AFP.
"Hong Kong has become a police state where the government is hiding behind the police force and refusing to find solutions to the present crisis."
Well-known figures in the leaderless protest movement have visited the US, Germany, Taiwan and Australia to raise awareness.
"Our police system has been corrupted into a personal tool for Carrie Lam to maintain her power and to abuse the public power to torture the people, to silence the people," another activist, Brian Leung, said in the AFP interview.
He was referring to the leader of the former British colony, who was not directly elected but appointed by an overwhelmingly Beijing-friendly committee.
On Friday Amnesty International accused Hong Kong police of using excessive force.
"In an apparent thirst for retaliation, Hong Kong's security forces have engaged in a disturbing pattern of reckless and unlawful tactics against people during the protests," said Nicholas Bequelin, the watchdog's East Asia Director.
"This has included arbitrary arrests and retaliatory violence against arrested persons in custody, some of which has amounted to torture."
Leung told AFP "there are countless incidents of such brutality and the worst of the situation is the police has systematically concealed their identity, are not showing their faces... which makes accountability impossible."
He alleged that some injured protesters do not go to the hospital because they fear that could lead to police getting information about them.
"So we do not know the exact scale and numbers of those injuries and we are sure that the police, if they continue such brutality, it will be only a matter of time before some citizen might suffer from fatal injuries," Leung added.
Millions took to Hong Kong's streets beginning in June but small groups of hardcore protesters have set fires, stormed the city's legislature, and hurled rocks and petrol bombs at officers, who have fired back with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Police say they have exercised restraint.
Joshua Wong, another activist, said he is one of 200 among the 1,500 arrested to face prosecution.
A 12-year-old child was also detained, and "even first aider, doctors or nurse in the protest zone, they will still be arrested by riot police without any legitimate reason," he said.
"Hong Kong (has) transformed from a modern global city to a police state with police violence," Wong told AFP.
Among their demands, activists want an independent probe of alleged police brutality.
The protests began against a now-scrapped plan to allow extraditions to the authoritarian Chinese mainland but grew into a wider campaign for democracy, fuelled by animosity towards the police.
Under a deal that outlined Hong Kong's return to China from British colonial rule in 1997, Hong Kong enjoys liberties and rights not seen on the mainland, but protesters say freedoms are being eroded by Beijing.