The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) has said it deplores the use of, and threat of, violence towards journalists covering the city’s ongoing protests.
Thousands marched in a “global anti-totalitarianism” protest on Sunday despite the lack of police approval, but the afternoon devolved into high-speed clashes and mass arrests across Hong Kong Island. In several incidents, riot police directly used force against reporters on the ground.
An Indonesian journalist was shot in the face by a rubber bullet or beanbag round fired by police on a bridge near Wan Chai MTR station.
Footage showed that Veby Mega Indah – associate editor of the Suara Hong Kong News – was wearing a high visibility jacket, a helmet with “press” markings, an eye shield, and was standing alongside other media staff when she was conducting a Facebook live stream. The publication is popular among the city’s Indonesian domestic workers.
According to a live stream, as riot police were retreating from the bridge, a journalist shouted: “These are reporters here. Don’t [shoot at] this side.” But one of the officers fired a round into the crowd, despite the plea.
The projectile hit Indah’s face as she complained of pain in her right eye. She remained conscious and was treated by first-aiders on the scene. She was then sent to Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital.
The HKJA said it was gravely concerned by reports of Indah suffering a serious injury.
“We are particularly concerned by reports that the injury was caused by a rubber bullet or bean bag round and that the journalist was not in the immediate vicinity of protestors at the time of the incident, she was clearly identifiable as being a member of the press and was with a number of other journalists at the time also wearing high visibility press markings,” it said in a statement.
“Police have a duty to assist the press and facilitate reporting by members of the press. It is self-evident that this means that police should not cause injury to members of the press.”
The HKJA said will be investigating and will take action to protect the rights and safety of members if the case is substantiated.
Protests in Hong Kong have entered their 17th week. They first began with large-scale peaceful protests in June against a bill that would have enabled extraditions to China. But the demonstrations have evolved into sometimes violent displays of dissent over Beijing’s encroachment, democracy and alleged police brutality.
Also on Sunday, a photographer for Initium Media was shot with pepper spray directly, despite there being no other civilians or demonstrators around him.
The news outlet said that, at around 8:30pm, riot police were retreating from Hennessy Road near the Canal Road flyover, and deliberately targetted photographer Lam Chun-tung with pepper spray.
“He had shown his press identity. His hands were only holding a camera to take photos. However, he was suddenly fired at directly by a riot police officer with pepper spray in his face and the camera, leaving the camera damaged,” the news outlet said in a statement. “Initium media strongly condemn the police for hindering reporters from interviewing, and attacking photojournalists,” it said.
Public broadcaster RTHK also said in a statement that a video assistant was blocked from covering the protests, and their arm was struck with a police baton.
“RTHK strongly condemns violence targeting working journalists following cases of violent treatment of our colleagues by the police in recent months. We reserve the right to pursue, and hope all sides will be be restrained,” it said.
Watchdogs speak out
Jodi Schneider, president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, called for an independent inquiry into the authorities’ actions against journalists.
We @fcchk join business, legal and other civic groups in calling for an independent inquiry into authorities' actions amid the #HongKongProtests — in our case into violence against journalists and interference with press coverage. After yesterday, the need is even more clear. https://t.co/Blh9lR6Ovi
— @jodi (@jodifsbloomberg) September 29, 2019
“It was a tough day for the press covering the Hong Kong protests with reports of the police targeting media with pepper spray, ramping up [the] use of lights to distract coverage, blocking access, and more reports of violence against journalists,” she wrote on Facebook. “We at FCC HK remind that there is a right to coverage granted under Hong Kong law,” she said.
In a press release on Monday, the club echoed the call for an investigation into police conduct: “The FCC urges that any such investigation should be transparent. We have expressed our concern over these types of incidents since the start of the protests in June, yet the violence and interference has only escalated.”
Meanwhile, the HKJA expressed grave concern about recent online threats from protesters against TVB journalists. The broadcaster has been under fire over coverage some demonstrators believe t to be biased.
“We deplore the use and threat of violence towards journalists covering events in Hong Kong from any source and [call] on police and protestors to allow journalists to carry out their job of reporting the facts without risk of serious injury or threats of violence,” it said.
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