Police arrested two men yesterday after a South China Morning Post photographer taking pictures of mainland parallel-goods traders stocking up on milk powder was slapped in the face in a scuffle that left her slightly hurt.
It happened as the shelves of Sheung Shui shops were emptied of milk powder on the day before new curbs on the amount of formula that travellers can take across the border took effect.
May Tse was taking pictures from a footbridge outside Sheung Shui MTR station when two men rushed up from the ground floor and one slapped her face.
The two, along with a few others, shouted foul language at her in a mainland accent and bundled her into a corner for about five minutes, demanding that she delete her pictures. "It's none of your business that we are parallel trading. No pictures," one of the two men said. Others left the scene when police arrived but the two men were arrested.
Post editor-in-chief Wang Xiangwei denounced the attack. "The South China Morning Post condemns violence of any kind against journalists who are carrying out their legitimate and rightful duties," he said. "Journalists play an important role in Hong Kong, a free society ruled by law. Such violence has no place in this city and should not be tolerated."
It was also condemned by the Hong Kong Journalists Association and Hong Kong Press Photographers Association. "The public should respect press freedom," photographers association chairman Tyrone Siu said. "[Tse] was taking pictures to report on a public issue before a change of the law, about which the general public has every right to be informed."
Journalists association chairwoman Mak Yin-ting urged the police to take the case seriously.
Tse, who had a twisted left leg and a cut on her face from her spectacles flying off when she was slapped, was taken to North District Hospital in Sheung Shui for a check-up. Police confirmed that two Chinese men had been arrested on suspicion of assault.
From today, travellers will be allowed to take only two cans, or 1.8kg, of milk formula out of Hong Kong in an effort to deter traders who buy the products for resale in Shenzhen. Sheung Shui retailers saw a threefold surge in infant formula sales.
One dispensary, Kwok Shing, had dozens of boxes of Mead Johnson infant formula piled outside their store. An employee said the shop sold several hundred tins yesterday - triple the usual number of 100. "[The traders] are making large purchases on the last day. After today they may not be able to carry many tins of milk at one time," he said.
Under the new rules, the person carrying the powder must be at least 16 and must not have left the city in the previous 24 hours. Offenders face up to two years' jail and a HK$500,000 fine.