Journalist groups and unions have condemned police violence against the media and interference in their rights to cover the Hong Kong protests after reporters were treated badly by police in Mong Kok on Sunday.
May James, a freelance photojournalist who has photographed the protests for Hong Kong Free Press, was arrested and detained by police when she was at work on the frontline covering the clashes between police and protesters.
James was ordered to take off her face mask and was searched, despite wearing a high-visibility yellow press vest, helmet, a backpack marked with the word “Press” and showing her ID and reporter’s credentials to police officers.
When she asked the masked officer to show her his police warrant card, the officer refused and said “we don’t need to give you any identification.” She was then surrounded by dozens of riot police, who shouted at her during the checking process and later arrested her.
James has reporter identification cards issued by the Hong Kong Journalists Association and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club.
She was detained for seven hours at a police station in Kowloon before being released on Monday morning.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club issued a statement and condemned the arrest, as well as the treatment several other journalists received. Other reporters at the scene were required by police to remove their face masks when they were working at the protest sites, despite government assurances that journalists would be exempt from the face-mask ban while carrying out their professional duties.
The Hong Kong police said James was arrested for obstructing police. She was released on bail without charge.
There have also been cases of video journalists and photojournalists being hit by rubber bullets or bean bag rounds, pepper-sprayed and tear-gassed. It seemed to many they were the targets of police aggression.
A video journalist from Radio Television Hong Kong was filming on the sidewalk on Nathan Road when there were only a few other journalists standing nearby. No protesters were seen in that area.
But several officers in full riot gear approached and shoved him, grabbed his camera and tried to tear the gas mask from his face.
With many rounds of tear gas having been fired throughout the evening, the journalist attempted to put his mask back on, only for the officer to continue manhandling him. Another officer came up and briefly shone a bright light in his face, as other reporters protested, telling the officers to stop interfering with journalists. The officers then left.
The video journalist kept working and followed some protesters towards Yau Ma Tei but there, he and a group of other journalists were pepper-sprayed at close range.
The liquid was dyed blue and left blue splotches all over his camera, arm and clothes.
RTHK strongly condemned the “unnecessary force” used by police, accusing officers of “violently interfering with normal reporting duties.” The spokesman expressed “extreme regret” that an officer had taken the gas mask off the video journalist without a reasonable explanation.
RTHK’s Programme Staff Union has called on the police to disclose the identity of the officers who attacked and ripped the face mask off one of the station’s journalists on Sunday and actively investigate whether the police followed regulations.
Meanwhile, the Apple Daily reported that one of its reporters also had her mask torn off in Mong Kok, on Shantung Street, when an officer told the reporter that journalists were not exempted from the government’s anti-mask law. The police took her mask off from behind.
Throughout the day, at least three reporters sustained leg injuries, believed to be caused by police shooting either rubber bullets or bean bag rounds.
A Stand News journalist was shot in the left leg when he was at work on the frontlines. Other reporters and first-aid workers moved him to another place for treatment and believed he had been hit by a bean bag round. After that, he continued filming the protests.
An SCMP video journalist was also hurt while filming in the area.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association and Hong Kong Photographers Association issued a joint statement condemning police interference in press freedom in the city.