The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) strongly condemns the police use of force against journalists in recent days when they were covering the anti-extradition bill protests. Such police actions have endangered safety of journalists and caused harm to press freedom. HKJA appeals to reporters to wear helmet and reflective press vests to attend the police press conference this evening (13 June) to express our discontent with the Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo. We urge the Commissioner to conduct an investigation into the police’s use of force against journalists and offer explanations to the public. HKJA will also file complaints to the Independent Police Complaints Council about these cases.
According to Article 27 of the Basic Law, “Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions, and to strike”. Also, according to the Police General Orders chapter 39 (5) – “All officers at the scene of an incident shall: (a) facilitate the work of the news media as much as possible and accord media representatives consideration and courtesy; and (b) not block camera lenses”.
However, based on the 17 cases which the HKJA has collected from the front-line reporters over the past two days, police officers not only did not act according to the relevant guidelines of the Police General Orders, but even obstructed reporters with force and foul language. Their rough and violent interference with reporting have inflicted injuries to a number of journalists, and, more seriously, caused damage to the press freedom and the public’s right to know that are enshrined in the Basic Law. These cases of abuse of power by the police include:
- Four cases of shooting tear gas at the reporters at close range, with one journalist being harmed;
- Two cases of police hitting the reporters with batons and causing injuries;
- Multiple cases of pushing and expelling reporters with riot shields, and caused one reporter to be injured;
- Multiple cases of deterring reporters with batons, preventing them from filming police arresting the protestors; and
- Multiple cases of body searches of media staff without any justified reasons and causing interference with journalists’ reporting.
It is noticeable that when these abuse incidents occurred, all victims of these cases were wearing on their bodies clear identification of reporters, including press cards as stated in the Police General Orders, high-visibility vest and/or helmet printed with large ‘PRESS’ lettering. In addition, in most of these cases, there was actually no protester close to the affected journalists when the incidents happened. It cannot be argued that these journalists were standing too close to protesters and therefore were unfortunately affected by the clashes. Hence, these incidents make people to question if some individual police officers were acting against journalists on purpose.
The most outrageous incident happened on 12 June when a local journalist in a high-visibility vest with large “PRESS” letters on it was shooting the scene of a few riot police firing tear gas at Admiralty. He was asked to leave by the riot police but he stayed to keep on taking photos. The riot police fired tear gas towards him from a distance of around 5 – 6 meters. They only stopped when another reporter nearby shouted at them. This is the famous scene of “You Shoot the Press!” being shared by many online. The police have used unnecessary force against reporters wearing clear identification as journalists. The rough and violent behaviours by the police reported in those cases obviously have gone far beyond the police’s legitimate powers to maintain public order. HKJA urges the police to conduct a just and internal investigation into these cases, and to take disciplinary action against those police officers who had abused their powers.
Hong Kong Journalists Association
13 June 2019
Caption 1: A local photojournalist was shooting the scene of the police firing tear gas in Admiralty. It is clear that there was not any protestor nearby in the photo, and the reporter was wearing a high-visibility vest to show his identity as a reporter. (Photo: Ming Pao)
Caption 2: After the riot police failed to expel the reporter, they shot a round of tear gas at him. It is clear that there was not any protestor nearby in the photo, and the reporter was wearing a high-visibility vest to show his identity as a reporter. (Photo: Ming Pao)