The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today called on authorities in Hong Kong to put an end to growing harassment and targeted attacks on journalists covering ongoing protests.
In the past few days, clashes between security forces and protesters in the city have intensified, leading to an increasingly hostile climate and a sharp escalation in attacks against reporters and photographers.
Multiple journalists have suffered injuries, including one who was splashed with corrosive liquid and another who was permanently blinded in one eye after being shot in the face with a police projectile. The incidents have prompted some media outlets to partially recall their reporting crews from the front-line.
“I feel as if the trigger finger has become looser on the police force towards the press”, Aiden Anderson, a freelance photojournalist who has been covering the protests in Hong Kong for the last few weeks, told IPI. “It feels like occasionally we are specifically targeted.”
Anderson said he had been covering clashes when an officer fired a teargas cannister directly at him, hitting him in the arm. “There’s less and less hesitation to fire pepper spray or any type of weapon at us”, he said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re in their face or not, they will come after us nonetheless.”
“The police are out of control”, Sean Fleck, another freelance photographer, said. “I’ve seen them push journalists, threaten them with batons, yell at photographers, shoot people with rubber bullets at point blank range.”
The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) has also condemned the incidents of violence against the press.
Video journalist and documentary film maker Martin Buzora, who also covered protests on the streets last week, told IPI that incidents involving journalists had increased in tandem with the rising violence.
“There is less tolerance now for anyone standing in the police’s way”, he said. “Local journalists in particular are treated terribly. Beyond the obvious and immediate dangers of physical harm from the protest grounds coming from both sides, my biggest concern that keeps me up at night is my fear that police don’t have an independent system to keep them in check and playing by the rules. This scares me more than any stray Molotov cocktail.”
IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad condemned the rising violence against the press.
“Hong Kong authorities must ensure that journalists are able to carry to their role safely and thoroughly investigate any incidents of violence against the press”, he said. “The failure to conduct such investigations emboldens further attacks and suggests that attacks by police enjoy tacit sanction by the Hong Kong administration.”
Summary of recent attacks
On Sunday, Veby Mega Indah, a 39-year-old Indonesian journalist and associate editor of the Suara Hong Kong News, was shot in the face with a police projectile as she was live streaming an event from an overpass. Her lawyer said on Thursday that she will be permanently blind in her right eye. The journalist was wearing a high visibility jacket and a helmet with “press” markings at the time.
On Tuesday, October 1, multiple journalists were injured while covering the ‘day of grief’ protests organised to mark China’s national day and the 70th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party.
Pang Pui Yin, a reporter for the Chinese-language news website Local Press, was arrested as police dispersed crowds in Mong Kok shopping district, according to reports. He was first accused of unlawful assembly and later of assaulting a police officer. He too was wearing a high-visibility press corps jacket at the time.
Earlier that day, public broadcaster RTHK reported that one of its journalists was struck in the head with a projectile, and another hit in the knee by a rubber bullet. The incidents prompted the station to pull out its frontline reporting team over safety concerns. The South China Morning Post later followed suit.
Also on Tuesday, October 1, news site Apple Daily reported that one of its reporters had been hit in the stomach by a tear gas cannister during chaotic clashes in Wan Chai. Two of its female reporters were also shot at with rubber bullets while interviewing a demonstrator, according to the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA).
Separately, Stand News reported that at least six of its journalists had been injured throughout the day, including one who was hit in the face by a suspected sponge-tipped round and needed treatment at hospital. A police officer also put his hand around a reporter’s neck, the news outlet said, while another reporter was shot in the calf during an interview.
In another incident, journalists and photographers were splashed with a corrosive liquid after someone threw the substance at police officers during a protest. A reporter from online news portal HK01 was hospitalized after suffering blisters on her arm, and chemical burns on her face, according to her employer.
An English-language journalist from Radio Television Hong Kong was also hit by an unknown object and was sent to the hospital for treatment, according to the HKJA. Another of its reporters was arrested by riot police officers while carrying out an interview.