The Hong Kong Journalists Association and the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association strongly protest against the suppression of press freedom and freedom of expression by the Hong Kong authorities during the visit of Vice Premier Li Keqiang to Hong Kong. The two associations are deeply concerned that such curtailment of our rights to freedom of the press, freedom of expression and the people’s right to know will become a matter of routine as Hong Kong isgradually being turned into a police controlled city.
We would like to remind the Hong Kong Administration as well as the Hong Kong police that General Comment No 34 of the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations states, “A free, uncensored and unhindered press or other media is essential in any society to ensure freedom of opinion and expression and the enjoyment of other Covenant rights. It constitutes one of the cornerstones of a democratic society.”
However, both our associations found that restrictions against the news media have increased gradually and rocked the foundations of our media industry as well as the community.
According to news workers, opportunities for open news coverage of Vice Premier Li’s activities were less than for other leaders visiting Hong Kong. Instead, the media have been forced to rely more on edited videos and articles sent out by the Information Services Department and official media organisations. This trend of turning media into mouthpieces of the government by resorting to dissemination of centralised information is not new but has been magnified during the official visit of Vice Premier Li. We totally object to such practices.
We urge the government to reverse course and return to the ways of an open and transparent society.
What makes the HKJA and HKPPA angry is the lip service paid by the police to respecting press freedom. The facts prove the contrary. The police either relegated the press area too far away to be able to observe events, not least to say to perform our rightful duty, or to obstruct the view of events or objects by a wall of policemen and policewomen. This is a violation of Police General Orders which requires all officers at the scene of an incident to facilitate the work of the news media as much as possible and not block camera lenses.
Furthermore, similar to those of China’s public security officers , the behaviour of Hong Kong police to obstruct news coverage is outrageous. When the police carried away a local resident intending to go into the so-called core protection area, one police-like person wearing black clothes and chest badges attempted to block the camera lens of a photographer, but he refused to disclose his identity or to identify himself. His behaviour is similar to the “unidentified thugs” whom journalists meet from time to time in China. Hong Kong Government claims to be transparent. If this is true, how can we allow this kind of mainland situation to occur within their jurisdiction in Hong Kong?
As organizations defending freedom of speech, we are also dissatisfied with the police restrictions of demonstrators’ freedom of expression on several occasions. The designated demonstration areas are too far away. As a result the public’s demands are not heard or seen properly by officials. It would deprive people of the freedom of expression under the Basic Law. In addition the actions to deny demonstrators’ access to the Chinese leaders’ activity areas were extremely violent; far more than reasonable or necessary.
We are thus extremely concerned that Hong Kong may be moving towards a police controlled city. To ensure that Hong Kong people enjoy freedom of expression and maintain the core values of Hong Kong’s success, we request that the HKSAR Government commits itself to taking concrete measures to safeguard press freedom and freedom of expression and providing press arrangements that are based on fair and open principles.
We demand that police genuinely respect the freedom of the press, and to conduct thorough reviews on arrangements for media coverage of visits of central leaders, so as to avoid any recurrence of such restrictions on press freedom and freedom of expression. The authorities must also apologise to the affected sectors, including the media.
Hong Kong Journalists Association
Hong Kong Press Photographers Association