Journalists' associations in Hong Kong have written to the United Nations calling for help to end police violence against them.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association and the Hong Kong Photojournalists Association wrote to U.N. agencies in a formal complaint about repeated violence meted out to journalists by the Hong Kong police.
Since the anti-extradition protests escalated in June 2019, police have repeatedly prevented the media from reporting at the scene of clashes, attacked journalists, and detained and arrested them, the two groups said in a letter.
The letter quoted an HKJA survey as finding that more than 80 percent of journalists covering the protests had experienced some form of police violence, or had been prevented from doing their jobs by police.
"Since the start of this year, such obstructions have become more systematic, targeted, and larger in scope, including the insistence by officers that journalists verify their identity before trying to work, large-scale stop-and-search operations, with police going so far as to detain reporters at the scene [of protests], or driving them away," the letter said.
It said a total of 143 complaints had been filed with the Independence Police Complaints Council by news organizations and individual journalists during the past year.
But not a single police officer has been sanctioned or criticized over their treatment of the media, it said.
The letter called on U.N. human rights organizations to send officials to Hong Kong to investigate the complaints made and any government action taken, and make recommendations to the authorities.
HKJA chairman Chris Yeung said the situation has deteriorated for journalists covering the protest movement.
He said the HKJA had continually issued statements about the violence suffered by journalists and met with Hong Kong government officials, police representatives and even the Commissioner of Police to try to make their opinions known.
Attempts to hold the police accountable through judicial procedures, had met with no success, however.
"Hong Kong participates in some meetings of the United Nations via the central government [in Beijing] and also issues reports on the human rights situation in Hong Kong, including press freedom," Yeung told RFA.
"That's why we thought that the U.N. ... might be a more effective way to reach the Hong Kong government, and to get some pressure put on the Hong Kong police," he said.
"The international community actually wants Hong Kong to keep its freedoms, including the freedom of the press," Yeung said.
Value more symbolic than practical
Bruce Lui, journalism lecturer at Hong Kong's Baptist University, said the complaint letter could be of more symbolic than practical value, however.
"I'm not hugely optimistic that this will have any effect, because ... Beijing is committed to upholding the authoritarian tactics of the Hong Kong police," Lui said.
"But it's worth trying, if only because it is another legitimate channel to express [journalists'] views," he said.
The HKJA has also expressed serious concern about an imminent new national security law for Hong Kong that will be imposed on the city by the standing committee of China's National People's Congress (NPC), bypassing Hong Kong's Legislative Council (LegCo).
In a move widely condemned by foreign governments and rights groups as signaling the end of Hong Kong's autonomy and status as a separate legal jurisdiction, the law will outlaw "actions and activities" deemed subversive, seditious, or pro-independence, or that involve collaboration with overseas powers or organizations.
The move has been criticized by foreign governments, legal experts, and rights activists as being in breach of China's obligations under the 1984 treaty governing the 1997 handover of Hong Kong, and as paving the way for further political prosecutions of peaceful critics of the government, democracy campaigners, and rights activists.
Concerns for personal safety
A recent survey by the HKJA found that 98 percent of respondents thought that the law would seriously or considerably affect freedom of the press. And 92 percent had concerns about their personal safety after the law is passed.
"Some respondents pointed out that the law enforcement agencies would target the press, foreign journalists would be barred from visa application, and people would avoid doing press interviews," the group said in a report published on its website on June 18.
Citing the security law, restrictions on freedom of assembly, and China's pressure on Hong Kong authorities to "arrest pro-democracy activists and disqualify pro-democracy electoral candidates," .U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unveiled visa restrictions on officials seen as violating the city's promised rights and autonomy.
"Today, I am announcing visa restrictions on current and former CCP officials who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, as guaranteed in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, or undermining human rights and fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong. Family members of such persons may also be subject to these restrictions," he said Friday.
Earlier on Friday, more than 50 of the UN’s independent China experts voiced “alarm regarding the repression of fundamental freedoms in China,” and urged the international community to hold Beijing to its international human rights obligations in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet.
"Most recently, the National People’s Congress took a decision to draft a national security law for the Hong Kong SAR – without any meaningful consultation with the people of Hong Kong – which would, if adopted, violate China’s international legal obligations and impose severe restrictions on civil and political rights in the autonomous region," the UN rights office said in a statement.
"The national security law would introduce poorly defined crimes that would easily be subject to abuse and repression, including at the hands of China’s national security organs, which for the first time would be enabled to establish ‘agencies’ in Hong Kong ‘when needed,"" it added.
The U.S. Senate on June 25 backed legislation that would impose mandatory sanctions on individuals or companies that back efforts by China to restrict Hong Kong's autonomy, as the ruling Chinese Communist Party moves to implement a new security law for the city.
The Hong Kong Autonomy Act passed by unanimous consent, but must also pass the House of Representatives and be signed into law by President Donald Trump.
The bill almost passed earlier this month, but was blocked by Republican Senator Kevin Cramer at the request of the Trump administration, which made a late request for technical corrections.
Reported by Lu Xi and Tseng Yat-yiu for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.