HKJA decided not to appeal against the High Court’s dismissal of its legal challenge over the police’s behaviour towards reporters at protests

In mid-2019, the anti-amendment campaign started. Conflicts of different scales continued to erupt in various districts between protestors, citizens and the police. Intensity of the conflicts continued to escalate and attracted international attention. Media workers are at the forefront, reporting the truth, with only one purpose: to make a comprehensive record, enable the public to understand the facts and judge right from wrong. As society becomes more divided and lacking mutual trust, disputes have become more emotional and acute; government transparency, media monitoring, and the role of reporting the truth becomes more important.

What makes us regretful and angry is that since June 2019, frontline reporters have repeatedly been obstructed by the police. Many police officers have been hostile, verbally humiliated and even used force on reporters; HKJA had demanded the police to stop obstructing media interviews as early as June 2019, but the situation has not improved, but even worsened. Obstruction of reporters from interviews and the use of force are common nowadays as the current mechanism for complaints against police is seriously flawed. We have “no way to complain”. The police management turns a deaf ear and the top government officials stay out of the matter. The only thing we can do was to apply to the court for judicial review in October 2019 with only one purpose: to bring justice to the reporter ! Allowing a reporter to continue to do interview is not a demanding request.

Court of First Instance Judge Anderson Chow Ka-ming handed down a judgment on December 21 dismissing a judicial review application. The judge stated in the judgment that 13 reporters were allegedly being obstructed by police officers from interviewing or being treated violently, which involved a wide range of cases. HKJA presented the cases as “assumed facts” as a whole and requested the court to consider for a ruling, after consideration, the court pointed out that although the allegations were reasonably arguable, the assumed facts approach was unworkable. The judge also added, judicial review was not an appropriate procedure for handling factual disputes, victims in the cases alleging police violence could generally file a civil lawsuit.

The judge emphasized that the judgment should not be interpreted as a court ruling whether the police had violated the Basic Law and/or Human Rights Law, because whether the police’s practices were unconstitutional in related incidents would require a full investigation in civil litigation to determine.

In November last year, the judge ruled that in other parts of the judicial review case, the police did not display the UI number when on duty violated the Human Rights Law. The court also pointed out that the authorities should establish an independent investigation mechanism to deal with the public’s complaints against the police. The court’s ruling in that part was based on the contents of 13 duly signed journalists statements, including other evidence such as photos and video clips. Now the judge refused to make ruling based on the 13 journalist statements and said the “assumed facts” approach was unworkable, we found it hardly acceptable, but we will respect the court’s decision.

After consulting our legal team and taking into account a range of factors and the fact that there are other cases on its plate, HKJA has decided not to pursue the matter.

We are extremely sad and frustrated at failing to seek justice for journalists through the courts. There are a large number of videos and pictures that prove that some police officers have violated laws and regulations, which is an iron fact. The court ruled earlier that the complaint against police mechanism was inadequate, we feel helpless about this dead-end.

Justice is in the hearts of the people, but justice cannot and should not only be in the hearts of the people. Justice must be maintained and demonstrated through system. Journalists are not asking for privileges. We only demand those with public power to enforce the law in accordance with the law, be fair to reporters, and be responsible for their own exercise of power. The court dismissed our case, but we don’t feel defeated, nor did we think that we had any fault to ask for justice. Journalists will not back down, but will continue to pursue the truth fearlessly.

We sincerely thank the reporters and lawyers in 13 cases for their selfless assistance. We will also contact reporters in 13 cases to find out if they will take the next step and provide assistance if necessary.

Hong Kong Journalists Association

19 January 2021

HKJA and HKPPA strongly condemn the suspected police officers for obstructing media interviews and request the police to seriously investigate and follow up
HKJA expressed extreme disappointment with a District Court judge’s remarks that reporters who stay at a protest scene may constitute part of a ‘riot’