Hong Kong Journalists Hit Back Over Police Violence Against Colleagues


2019-10-28
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hongkong-journalists.jpg Journalists wear protective gear and high visibility vests during a press conference to highlight allegations that police have mistreated and obstructed the media when covering clashes between the police and protesters, at police headquarters in Hong Kong on Sept. 9, 2019.
AFP

Hong Kong journalists on Monday walked out of a news briefing after police attacks on and arrests of media workers covering the weekend's protests, as the movement hit out at racist policies from Beijing and possible attempts to divide Hongkongers along racial lines in a city where non-white ethnic minority groups say they have been habitually discriminated against.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) and other industry groups detailed six incidents during protests in which riot police had pushed and shoved frontline reporters, pulling off their anti-tear gas masks and detaining one for several hours.

Police had also targeted groups of journalists with pepper spray, rubber bullets, tear gas and caustic blue dye fired from a water cannon as the city saw another weekend of protests against the government and police, the HKJA and the Hong Kong Association for Press Photographers said in a statement.

Journalists are exempt from a recent ban on masks in public places -- a hugely controversial measure enacted under colonial-era emergency laws -- as they are "persons engaged in employment or a profession," the group said, citing public assurances by secretary for security John Lee.

But police had detained May James, a freelance photographer working for the pro-democracy Hong Kong Free Press website with clear accreditation and a high-viz jacket bearing the word PRESS, for several hours before releasing her on bail, it said.

According to local media reports, James was told by police that reporters weren't exempt from the mask ban.

Tom Grundy of the Hong Kong Free Press said news organization had been concerned for some time over obstacles being placed in the way of a free press, particularly on the front line.

"Journalists are committed to defending the freedom of the press with due diligence and plain reporting, and should not be unnecessarily obstructed or suppressed," the HKJA said. "We call on the government to take immediate steps to curb ever-expanding police powers ... and clearly instruct the police to stop using the mask ban to obstruct the media."

A journalist with the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper had her mask torn off by force after refusing to remove it on the basis that she was exempt, the HKJA said.

And a Stand News reporter received medical treatment after suffering leg injuries believed to be inflicted by a rubber bullet, while police had also pushed and shoved reporters gathered on the Avenue of the Stars in Kowloon's Tsimshatsui, it said.

Two other journalists also suffered leg injuries from rubber bullets during the weekend.

Journalist attacked by riot police

Government broadcaster RTHK said one of its video journalists was attacked by riot police on Kowloon's Nathan Road.

"An RTHK video journalist was standing on the sidewalk on Nathan Road, when several officers in full riot gear approached and shoved him, grabbed his camera, and tried to tear the gas mask off his face," the station reported.

"The incident happened during a lull in the protests, with few people but other journalists standing by, and nary a protester in sight," it said, adding that the officer continued to manhandle the journalist when he tried to put his mask back on for fear of further rounds of tear gas being fired.

"A colleague came up and briefly shone a bright light in his face, as other reporters protested, telling the officers to stop interfering with journalists," the report said.

The same cameraman was later pepper-sprayed by police at close range in Yaumatei district after he resumed his duties, RTHK said.

RTHK strongly condemned the "unnecessary force" used by the police, accusing officers of "violently interfering with normal reporting duties".

A spokesman for the broadcaster expressed "extreme regret" that an officer had taken the gas mask off of the video journalist without a reasonable explanation, and called for an investigation into the incident.

At the police news conference on Monday, a freelance journalist stood up and read out a statement criticizing officers for ripping off reporters’ face masks, pepper spraying them, and firing rubber bullets at them, before shining a bright light into the faces of the officials giving the briefing.

Other journalists shouted their support, as the officials left the room, followed by the journalists.

Chief superintendent John Tse said the protest was "disorderly conduct" that denied the public their right to information.

Meanwhile, protesters held an anonymous news conference emphasizing racial harmony in Hong Kong and hitting out at China's treatment of ethnic minorities, Muslims in particular.

Chinese ethnic policies faulted

The spokeswoman said the protest movement should take issue with the ruling Chinese Communist Party's use of ethnic Chinese heritage to define who is regarded as a citizen.

"According to the Nationality Law of the People's Republic of China, anyone who was born in China or Hong Kong with Chinese descent is considered a Chinese citizen," a masked spokeswoman said in statements in Chinese and English.

"After 1997, South Asians who watched the same television programs that we did, ate the same food that we did and spent our childhoods playing in the same streets that we did, are not considered family, legally. Besides Hong Kong, they have nowhere else to call home."

She added: "The Chinese definition of using bloodline to define nationality remains beneath international standards."

The protesters said that Hong Kong had always been a pluralistic society, with many contributions from non-white ethnic minorities that had been "overlooked" by the Chinese community, which makes up around 92 percent of the population. "We must not forget this point," she said.

The protesters also cited comments from Hongkongers of Pakistani heritage as saying that many in their communities saw the Oct. 21 spraying of the Kowloon Mosque by police water cannon -- a move that sparked an apology in person the next day from chief executive Carrie Lam -- was unlikely to have been an accident, given China's mass incarceration of Uyghurs and other ethnic minority Muslims in its northwestern region of Xinjiang.

"Regarding the attack on our Mosque by the water cannon car, my fellow community does not believe it was an accident at all after viewing the clips," the spokeswoman cited an anonymous Muslim Hongkonger as saying.

"After seeing the assault by the Hong Kong Police on our Mosque, all believers near and far are as much enraged as they are worried about believers in Hong Kong facing Xinjiang-like torture," the commentator said. "Our younger generation will not forgive the government nor the Hong Kong Police Force."

Another non-white ethnic minority commentator said they didn't need applause for standing with Hong Kong, and expressed hope for an end to social segregation that starts with the city's education system.

"It became hard for both us to interact, become friends and learn each other's culture, not to mention that this system starts from kindergarten to the end of secondary," the contributor was quoted as saying.

"Often hatred was created between [majority ethnic Chinese] and [non-white ethnic minorities] as a result, therefore strengthening divisions and a culture of discrimination," he said. "This segregation system taught us that we were always inferior to [Chinese]."

Reported by Man Hoi-tsan and Tseng Yat-yiu for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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