Journalists Beaten, Held As Police Clear Hong Kong Protest Site

china-hk-reporter-pepper-spray-oct-2014.jpg A local Hong Kong journalist collapses in agony after being hit in the face with pepper spray by police in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, Oct. 17, 2014.

More than 25 journalists have been injured in clashes with police during the Occupy Central movement, a Hong Kong journalist group said on Wednesday, as one reporter described being held down and kicked by police officers while shooting the clearance of protest sites in Mong Kok.

"To date, more than 25 journalists have been injured in clashes when police have used force in major operations," the Hong Kong Journalists' Association (HKJA) said in a statement on its website on Wednesday.

"Police have not just used force to disperse protesters, but also against people who are clearly identified as being in the media," it said, adding that repeated meetings with police officials to complain about the issue appear to have had scant effect.

The group also hit out at the arrest early Wednesday of a member of a Hong Kong television crew during the operation to clear barricades and encampments from a major shopping street in Mong Kok district.

The Now TV employee—a broadcast engineer—was set upon by several police officers, who shoved him to the ground, pinning him there, according to video footage shot by the Now cameraman at the scene.

The engineer sustained injuries to the head and body, and later sought treatment at a nearby hospital, Now reported.

The station later issued a statement saying the police actions, which were claimed to be in response to an attack from the man, were "a serious violation of press freedom."

The HKJA statement said: "We are shocked and outraged that a media worker has been detained without reason in the course of carrying out their reporting duties."

HKJA spokeswoman Shum Yee-lan said the man had been setting up for a live broadcast of the clearance operation when he was arrested.

"In the confusion of the situation, there was probably some bodily contact, but you can't make the case that the engineer was clearly trying to attack the police officers," she said.

Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor Director Law Yuk Kai said he thought the officers overreacted.

"I don't think there is very much evidence to support [the police claim that he had attacked them]," Law told RFA. "From a common-sense point of view, it's hard to understand."

"People shouldn't get arrested so lightly for so-called attacks on officers. It's pretty arbitrary," Law said.

Beating claim

In an interview with RFA on Wednesday, New Zealand journalist and documentary filmmaker Nick Wang described being pinned to the ground, kicked and beaten by police officers during the Mong Kok standoff.

Wang, who is operating in Hong Kong on a freelance basis for New Zealand-based media outlets, said he was filming the police operation to clear Mong Kok when he was told to leap over a barricade to leave the area.

"It was quite high, about chest-height, and I said I couldn't get across there, that only a dog could climb over it," Wang told RFA at a nearby hospital while awaiting treatment for injuries to his back and knees.

"As soon as I said that, the police started shoving me and hitting me, so I nearly fell," Wang said. "I said, 'stop hitting me,' but they didn't take any notice."

"They shoved me over, so I lay on my back, while I had continued to film them this whole time," he said. "Then the police pinned me down and wouldn't let me move."

"Then they started kicking my legs with those big leather boots until another police officer came over and helped me up."

Wang said he was given a card with a number to call for the Mong Kok deputy police chief and a piece of paper saying "beaten by police."

"I will be sending it to the New Zealand Press Council," he said.

Wang hit out at the attack as an abuse of police power. "I never expected this while I was working in Hong Kong; it's as if the police went crazy and don't care if you're a journalist any more."

He said the clashes with protesters overnight in Mong Kok were largely the result of police aggression.

"Why did they have to charge like that? The students were acting very peacefully," Wang said. "Are they a force for civilization or for backwardness and corruption?"

'Darkest days'

Under the terms of its 1997 handover to China, the former British colony was promised the continuation of its existing freedoms and a "high degree of autonomy."

But journalists and political commentators say Hong Kong's formerly free press is seeing its "darkest days" yet in what is likely a harbinger of further erosion of the city's traditional freedoms.

In a recent annual report, the HKJA pointed to a series of "grave attacks, both physical and otherwise in the past 12 months," including an attack on former Chinese-language Ming Pao chief editor Kevin Lau, the sacking of Commercial Radio talk-show host Li Wei-ling and the removal of other prominent journalists from senior editorial positions.

Advertising boycotts by major companies and the refusal of licenses to pro-democracy media, and a major cyberattack on the Apple Daily website in June, have also been cited as reasons for concern.

Occupy Central protesters are calling for fully democratic elections for Hong Kong's chief executive in 2017, instead of a limited race between candidates pre-approved by Beijing.

Reported by Xin Lin and Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ho Shan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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