Hong Kong i-Cable TV journalist reporting on 10th anniversary of Sichuan earthquake kicked and beaten by two men
‘Enraged’ company calls incident ‘unacceptable’ as mainland officials bring two men to media appearance during which they apologised
A Hong Kong television journalist was kicked and beaten by two men in mainland China’s southwestern Sichuan province on Saturday while reporting on the 10th anniversary of a deadly earthquake.
By the evening, mainland authorities brought two men before the media after Hong Kong officials expressed concerns about the assault. The pair apologised to the injured reporter, Chan Ho-fai.
Chan, a reporter with broadcaster i-Cable News, was standing outside Juyuan Middle School in Dujiangyan, located near the provincial capital Chengdu, when he was attacked on Saturday morning.
“I saw a group of men surrounding a car with a Commercial Radio reporter inside. When I wanted to take a picture with my phone, two men suddenly grabbed me by each arm and dragged me away,” Chan said.
The reporter was dragged from the scene to a nearby river and was repeatedly kicked and kneed in the stomach at least three times.
“While I kept calling for help, they kept kicking me in the head, and kneed me in the stomach ... They just kept kicking and wouldn’t let me go,” he said in a video recalling the incident.
Chan, visibly shaken, showed in the video that he had sustained red marks on his left cheek. His left hand and wrist were also red and swollen from where he said the men had grabbed him.
Chan claimed the men, who were dressed casually, also twisted his arms and took away his phone.
The incident lasted between five and 10 minutes before officials from the city’s propaganda department separated them.
Chan said the two men would not reveal their identities, with one of them only saying they were from the area.
In a statement, i-Cable said the company was “enraged” by what had happened and called the incident “unacceptable”.
“We have contacted the government information office of Sichuan province and the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office to request a thorough investigation into the incident so as to ensure the press freedom and personal safety of reporters working in the country,” it added.
When i-Cable staff complained to the officials, they were told the matter could not be handled because they did not know the identities of the two men.
Hong Kong Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said the city’s leadership was “very concerned about this incident”.
Speaking from Sichuan as part of a high-level delegation visiting the province, Nip added Hong Kong officials were in touch with relevant provincial government departments to ask them to follow up the case.
“The relevant Sichuan authorities promised us they would investigate the matter and follow up with the Hong Kong government,” he said.
In a rare move, a provincial information officer on Saturday evening suddenly brought two men to Chan after assembling members of Hong Kong media outlets. The men claimed they had beaten up the journalist. And they apologised.
“The disaster was serious that year. We had taken part in the rescue operation,” one of the two said, alluding to the earthquake.
“Media reporting would open old wounds and make us sad. It was a misunderstanding. Sorry, Chan.”
The pair later told reporters they had lost family members in the disaster. When asked which family members they lost, the other man said: “They’re from the surrounding area. They’re neighbours.”
Later Chan confirmed they were the pair involved. But he said he had not provided any identifying information to local police.
Both the Hong Kong News Executives’ Association and the Hong Kong Journalists Association condemned the attack.
“We severely condemn all violent obstructions against reporters,” the News Executives Association said.
“We are shocked and strongly condemn the acts of violence,” the Journalists Association said in its own statement. The association described the authorities’ explanation that the matter could not be handled as “unconvincing”.
“We maintain the local authorities were shirking their responsibility,” it added, as it urged Sichuan officials to conduct a proper investigation.
In response earlier Saturday to the incident, Liu Hong, the head of Dujiangyang’s propaganda office that deals with non-mainland Chinese journalists, said it had reported the incident to police.
“I did not see what happened,” Liu told the broadcaster. “But I told police that they had to investigate. I feel sorry about what happened today.”
Liu said her office did not know the identities of the two men who attacked Chan. She did not explain how the two men were identified and found.
Liu brought Chan to a hospital to inspect his injuries. The medical report stated Chan suffered from pain and numbness in his wrists and coughing after being beaten.
Commercial Radio reporter Lui Tsz-kin, who was in the car at the scene, told the Post that two men and one woman charged towards the vehicle after he finished conducting several interviews at a memorial service held at the school.
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“They came asking who we were, and then they wrenched our car door open and snatched my bag with my computer and recording equipment,” Lui said.
The trio tried to pull Lui out of the car, until some 200 bereaved parents from the school noticed what was happening and gathered around.
“At one point I did see the i-Cable News reporter, Chan Ho-fai, take photos from the crowd, but I don’t know what happened to him afterwards,” he said. “I was barely able to take care of myself.”
Lui was uninjured, and his equipment and reporting material were not damaged.
Hong Kong journalists have been invited to cover the 10th anniversary of a magnitude-8 earthquake that struck Sichuan at May 12, 2008. The catastrophe left 87,000 dead, 370,000 injured and 5 million people homeless. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is leading the city’s delegation visiting the province.
Additional reporting by Christy Leung and Su Xinqi