Hong Kong: Police violence against journalists continues unabated

Police fire tear gas to disperse bystanders after a rally in the Mong Kok district in Hong Kong on October 27, 2019. – Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets October 27 at pro-democracy protesters who defied authorities to hold a rally on Hong Kong’s scenic harbourfront, the latest flashpoint in months of political unrest gripping the city. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP) / “The erroneous mention[s] appearing in the metadata of this photo by Philip FONG has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: [bystanders] instead of [pro-democracy protesters]. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention[s] from all your online services and delete it (them) from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it (them) to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require.”

On October 27 in Mong Kok, a number of journalists were reportedly attacked and arrested by police. Among them, May James, a freelance photographer, was asked to remove her face mask by police while covering the protest.  According to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club Hong Kong, Ms James identified herself as a journalist, was wearing a high-visibility yellow vest, a helmet and backpack marked as “press” and produced a press identification card when questioned. Despite complying with police requests she was arrested and detained overnight.

HKJA and Hong Kong Photojournalists Association co-issued a statement stating a number of journalists were requested by the police to remove their face masks and in some cases, had their masks forcibly removed. These actions by the police are in direct contradiction to the government’s assurance that journalists would be exempt from the face-mask ban while carrying out their professional duties. These masks are used by reporters to protect against tear gas and pepper spray, and by law, anyone who requires the masks for professional use should be exempt from the regulation banning them.

On the following day, October 28, a police press conference was held, where according to a report, freelance journalist, Amy Ip, read out a statement criticising officers for treating media staff harshly at protests and blocking them from performing their duties. Ms Ip then pointed a flashlight at the police officials to demonstrate a tactic used by the police against journalist during the protests that causes the journalists great distress.

The press conference was suspended temporarily as the police top brass left the room.  According to another report, staff from Police Public Relations Branch (PPRB) took a photo of Ms Ip’s press card, which has her full name and photo. HKJA reported that during Ip’s protest, staff from Hong Kong’s Police Public Relations Branch yelled at the reporters telling them to “Shut up”.

The IFJ said: “We strongly condemn the gross police misconduct. Forcing journalists to remove their face masks contravenes the Hong Kong government regulation and puts journalists’ safety at risk. The ongoing violence and detentions of journalists is reprehensible and we demand it stop. The IFJ is also very concerned about the personal particulars of journalist being shared in an unauthorised manner, and urges the Hong Kong Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data to conduct an investigation into any potential misuse.”

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