Hong Kong police pepper-spray journalists at a protest site. Photo: Facebook/Hong Kong Press Photographers Association

Journalists, cameramen and photojournalists wore helmets, facemasks and reflective vests at a police press conference on Monday in protest at the alleged brutality of the police force on media as they were reporting from protest sites.

A spokesperson from the Hong Kong Journalists Association and the Press Photographers Association read out a statement before the daily briefing started, alleging that some police officers had treated journalists brutally and obstructed their work by pepper spraying them on Saturday at a protest site in Kowloon.

The associations condemned what they called the brutality of police officers and violence and intimidation directed at journalists. They called on the police force to face the problems created by their frontline officers, who they said were emotionally out of control and were excessive in their use of force.

During the clashes between protesters and police last weekend, a number of cases supported by images or video footage showed that journalists were being targeted by some police officers, they said.

On Saturday night, when police had been arresting protesters outside the Pioneer Centre in Mong Kok, reporters were told by police to stop filming and leave the site. However, officers from the elite “raptor” squad used pepper-spray when a group of journalists stayed on the sidewalk.

Nine journalists – two photojournalists from news website HK01.com, one photojournalist from AFP, two photojournalists and one reporter from Ming Pao Daily, two reporters from Cable TV and one cameraman from RTHK – were affected and two had pepper-spray directed at their faces.

The police there failed to display their warrant cards or numbers, making it difficult for the reporters to file complaints.

On the same night, a reporter surnamed Chan from Stand News was attacked by a man in Yau Ma Tei while he was doing a live report on social media.

Chan said a group of police officers stood 10 meters away when the attack took place, but did not take any action, chase down the attacker or come to help him. The reporter suffered mouth and hand injuries and went to a hospital for treatment by himself later that night.

On Sunday, video footage showed police officers at the Causeway Bay MTR station throw a tear gas grenade, without warning, towards the sidewalk and which hit a reporter who was there.

The Ming Pao Staff Association also issued a statement condemning another incident on Sunday when their reporter was pushed to the ground by riot police while he was taking photos of protesters outside Mong Kok Police Station.

The officer covered his face and claimed the reporter fell down. The force ignored a request from the reporter for the police officer’s number so he could file a complaint.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Correspondents Club strongly condemned the police violence, saying the actions were unacceptable and constituted a violation of the rights under Hong Kong law for journalists to cover protests free of intimidation or violence by authorities.

Superintendent John Tse Chun-chung from the police public relations branch said on Monday that officers at the scene in Mong Kok did ask reporters politely to move away.

Using pepper-spray was only to establish a safe distance between police and other people at the scene, Tse said. Tse also said officers were not sure whether the people wearing reflective vests were reporters or not.

Meanwhile, police on Tuesday confirmed that all officers would be allowed to carry extendable batons when they are off-duty, in view of the escalating violence from recent protests.

Tse said the arrangement enabled officers to enforce the law and protect public safety in case of emergencies.

Wong Wai-shun, senior superintendent of the operation wing, said the officers would follow the Police General Orders strictly as the use of batons was regarded as a “use of force” and they would show their warrant cards whenever a situation allowed.

Wong added that officers from the crime investigation team were allowed to carry guns 24-hours a day. Local media reported that about 10,000 batons had been purchased by police.

Hong Kong police. Photo: AFP/Dale De La Rey

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