Police detain reporters in Hong Kong on May 10, 2020. Photo: RTHK

The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) and the Hong Kong News Executives’ Association (HKMEA) on Monday slammed the Hong Kong police for insulting and using pepper spray against dozens of reporters during a protest in Mong Kok.

“It is an extremely serious and very bad case last night… there were some remarks by police officers which were totally unacceptable. Insulting not just the reporters, but the profession,” said HKJA chairman Chris Yeung.

He said police officers should have a valid reason when intercepting and checking reporters’ ID, and should not indiscriminately intercept dozens of them at the same time.

The HKJA chief added that it was unreasonable to make reporters kneel or squat down and stop filming.

The HKJA and seven other media worker groups issued a joint statement saying that the police had used different excuses to prevent journalists from reporting the protests, used pepper spray on reporters’ eyes and ears, and attacked a photographer in Mong Kok on Sunday. They demanded an urgent meeting with Tang Ping-keung, the police commissioner. 

Jessica, an Apple Daily photographer, said she was choked by a police officer for 20 seconds until she fainted. She later told Stand News that she lost her consciousness for four minutes and was taken to hospital. She said a police officer also shot pepper spray at her eyes and mocked her, saying she was feigning injury. 

The six media worker groups include the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association, Independent Commentators Association, Journalism Educators for Press Freedom, Radio Television Hong Kong Programme Staff Union, Ming Pao Staff Association, Next Media Trade Union and CitizenNews Staff Union. 

The HKMEA also said in a statement that it expressed deep concerns over the police force’s treatment of media workers and their efforts to disrupt the media’s work. It urged the police to respect the freedom of the press, which is a core Hong Kong value. 

Hong Kong protesters have reappeared in shopping malls and on the streets as the city’s epidemic situation has significantly improved over the past few weeks. On Monday, no case of Covid-19 infections was reported. The total number of cases in the city stood at 1,044.

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Since last June, anti-extradition protesters have held hundreds of protests, urging the government to investigate police misconduct and implement universal suffrage. Media companies and the HKJA have complained that the police had unreasonably intercepted reporters and cameramen and attacked them with pepper spray, pepper balls and rubber bullets. 

On September 29 last year, Indonesian reporter Veby Mega Indal was blinded in her right eye by a police rubber bullet when she was covering the anti-extradition protest. She was standing with a group of reporters when she was shot. The victim filed a complaint but the police refused to investigate it.

On Sunday, when dozens of reporters were reporting the protests in Mongkok, they were ordered by the police to kneel or squat down and stop filming, according to a video. The police used pepper spray on the reporters and called them “fake reporters” and “rioters.” 

A Ming Pao reporter who continued to film was taken to an alley for a body search. The police checked the press and ID cards of the intercepted reporters. They ordered the reporters to state their names and ID numbers and show their press cards in front of a camera carried by a police officer. 

In a statement, Ming Pao’s editorial department condemned the police for preventing two of its reporters from performing their duties in Mong Kok on Sunday. It said the reporters had been standing on the passenger roads, instead of the traffic roads, but were still dispersed by the police and ordered to squat down. It said the police used pepper spray on reporters who had followed the police’s orders. It said reporters’ rights to report news are legally protected. 

The Ming Pao Staff Association said it condemned the police force’s treatment of media workers.

Next Media Trade Union said the police attack on reporters on Sunday was intentional and organized. It said the police should investigate the case and order officers to respect the freedom of the press. Law Wai-kwong, editor-in-chief of the Apple Daily, said the newspaper would file a complaint and demand that the attacker be held to account. 

The police force said it respected freedom of press and would assist media workers to report news at protests under reasonable circumstances. The government said it safeguarded press freedom.

Meanwhile, the HKJA said on Monday that a survey it conducted suggests people think the city’s press freedom deteriorated to a record low last year, according to a RTHK report.

More than 1,000 Hong Kong residents surveyed by the association ranked the city’s press freedom index at 41.9 out of 100, a drop of 3.1 points compared to 2018.

Meanwhile, 327 journalists put the figure at 36.2, a decline of 4.7 points. One third of the journalists said their seniors had pressured them into dropping or reducing reporting on Hong Kong independence.

Two-thirds of the 222 journalists who participated in a separate survey said they had been treated violently by police or groups of people when covering news. Both the public and journalists cited “threatened personal safety of reporters when covering news” and “difficulties encountered by reporters when gathering information” as their major concerns.

Read: HK government says no plan to regulate press cards

Read: HK media hit with rubber bullets, pepper spray