Hong Kong press groups condemn abuse of journalists at rally backing police’s handling of extradition bill protests
- Reporters and photographers said they were insulted, spat on, kicked and splashed with water and mud
- Post editor-in-chief urges public to ‘respect journalists and protect free and independent journalism’
Hong Kong journalists were physically and verbally attacked at a pro-police rally on Sunday as the city’s deepening split over the extradition bill crisis was laid bare ahead of the anniversary of the handover to Chinese sovereignty.
Reporters and photographers from various media outlets – including the Post – said they were insulted, spat on, kicked and splashed with water and mud by demonstrators at a rally to support the embattled police force in Tamar Park.
Rally-goers were expressing support for the police handling of extradition bill protests over the past weeks. The now-suspended legislation would have allowed for the transfer of suspects to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong has no such agreement, including mainland China.
The vehemence of the extradition dispute inflamed tensions between the public and police, who were accused of using excessive force when handling protesters against the bill. Demonstrators later besieged police headquarters in Wan Chai twice in a week, at one time for 15 hours.
Journalists have become the latest victims in the dispute. On Sunday, many middle-aged supporters attempted to block them from covering the pro-police rally.
Officers said a 61-year-old woman was arrested on Tim Mei Avenue, outside the legislature, for assaulting two journalists at around 6.30pm.
One of the victims was said to be a 26-year-old man who suffered injuries to his neck. The other was reported to be a 29-year-old woman who was injured on her leg.
The attacker was detained by police and was still in custody at midnight.
A Post reporter was grabbed by her wrist and dragged when she tried to keep an aggressive man away from a colleague at the demonstration area outside the legislature in Admiralty. The reporter, who was wearing a press badge and had made her identity clear, was also called a “c**t” and other profanities when she tried to film rival protesters hurling insults at each other.
A woman also called the reporter a “traitor” and jabbed a finger in her face before she was stopped by police.
Another Post journalist wearing a press badge was cursed with profanities and pushed by a group of male police supporters, who refused to stop when she told them she was a journalist. She managed to escape only when officers intervened.
Video footage by RTHK showed that a female reporter, who was trying to film the clash in Tim Mei Avenue, was blocked and obstructed by a middle-aged man who kept shouting “bastard” at her.
The 34-second clip ended abruptly with the female reporter shouting: “Don’t touch me!”
Tammy Tam, the Post’s editor-in-chief, called the abuse of journalists shocking.
“We are shocked that our reporters have been targeted and subjected to such abuse,” Tam said.
“Our journalists are professionals, doing their jobs in very difficult circumstances. We urge members of the public to respect journalists and protect free and independent journalism, which is vital to our society.”
In a joint statement, the Hong Kong Journalists Association and the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association strongly condemned the “maliciously targeting” of journalists. The groups’ said the demonstrators’ had been “jeopardising [journalists’] safety, dealing a blow to press freedom and also undermining the public’s right to know”.
An intern reporter from Stand News said she was called a “prostitute” even though she had made her identity clear several times. Other journalists were spat on by a demonstrator who ran away, according to the press groups.
The associations also said a reporter from Next Magazine had a camera splashed with water and other protesters placed Chinese national flags on the van of Cable TV.
“We strongly condemn the rally-goers for jeopardising the safety of journalists,” the joint statement said. “We call on them to stay calm and respect frontline journalists so they can perform their role as the fourth estate.”
The News Executives’ Association also condemned the acts, and expressed concern that the abusive behaviour had dealt a blow to the city’s free press.
The RTHK Programme Staff Union called on management to take the case to police and demanded the force handle the matter fairly and justly to ensure the safety of frontline journalists.
Additional reporting by Karen Zhang and Su Xinqi