Hong Kong police made a mass arrest of some 230 people at protests on Mother’s Day – the largest in months – as two groups representing local media hit out at officers’ handling of reporters covering the anti-government demonstrations. Police sources said the “containment and mass arrest” strategy was intended to have a deterrent effect on protesters, while the “early intervention” technique of stopping and searching suspicious persons had been used to prevent large crowds from assembling. Sources separately revealed the force planned to shift 4,000 officers back to its core riot squad from Friday ahead of next month’s protest anniversary. The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), meanwhile, has alleged that police had abused and insulted reporters covering the protests, while the Hong Kong News Executives' Association (HKNEA) expressed “extreme regret” over the violent handling of media members. “[There was] verbal abuse, and in some cases, reporters suffered from being pepper sprayed and were denied immediate treatment,” HKJA chairman Chris Yeung Kin-hing said on Monday, adding some reporters had their bags searched and were told to turn off their cameras, a violation of internal police guidelines on facilitating news reporting. “They were insulting not only the reporters, but the [whole] profession.” The anti-government protests, sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill last June, have shown recent signs of resurgence as the city’s coronavirus pandemic situation has improved. On Sunday, hundreds of people gathered in shopping malls to chant slogans and sing protest songs, while a smaller group of protesters tried to block roads by setting trash on fire in Mong Kok as dusk fell. Police responded by dispersing the crowds and making arrests, cornering reporters in the process, some of whom were hit by pepper spray. The force said on Monday that some 230 people aged 12 to 65 had been arrested for offences including unlawful assembly and possession of weapons, adding tickets were also issued to 19 people for violating the public gathering ban. Among those arrested on Sunday was Democratic Party lawmaker Roy Kwong Chun-yu, who was seen being pushed to the ground by a riot police officer before other officers pinned him down by kneeling on him. Kwong was later sent to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for treatment. Kwong, who met the press at the hospital on Monday night after he was released, said a police accusation that he had thrown a water bottle was absurd, and that he felt lucky to have a witness who could confirm he had not. “The media experienced a very horrifying day yesterday … they were just covering [the protest], but were dispersed by police for no reason and shot with pepper spray,” he added. Kwong, also a Yuen Long district councilor, said he would attend the council meeting on Tuesday and question Commissioner of Police Chris Tang Ping-keung, who was scheduled to show up. A police source, meanwhile, said he believed Sunday’s protests were only a warm-up for four major anniversaries in the next two months, including Tiananmen Square on June 4, as radical protesters had not shown up. “It appears [the organisers behind Sunday’s events] were testing the police response and how many people they could mobilise,” the source said. On Sunday, plain clothes officers were deployed at different protest sites across the city to carry out surveillance and mount stop-and-search operations against those who acted suspiciously. Several journalists were also searched. Political scientist Dr Edmund Cheng Wai, of City University, warned that mass arrests would only backfire. “The more people you arrest, the more will be angered,” he said, adding that more arrests alone would be unlikely to end protests. “It will sow more seeds of hatred.” Cheng said he believed that some former protesters may have turned away from street demonstrations in favour of putting effort into election campaigns and running unions as alternative forms of resistance to the government. On Monday, Ming Pao , a Chinese-language newspaper in Hong Kong, also joined the fray, issuing a strong condemnation of police for “violently interfering with lawful reporting” by two of its reporters in Mong Kok, and demanding an explanation from the force. It said its employees and other reporters had been cornered by police, who did not provide a path to exit the scene. Despite following police orders to crouch, reporters were still hit with pepper spray, the paper said. Kyle Lam, a photojournalist, was among those cornered on Sunday night. He recalled reporters and members of the public being pushed from two ends of the street by police, with some losing balance and falling on each other. During the process, Lam said police taunted him by calling him a “black reporter” and repeatedly hitting him with pepper spray, despite his obeying orders to fall back. “It was intentional, and they wanted to hurt me,” Lam said. Before reporters were let go, Lam said they were made to read out their names and ID numbers and display their press passes for a police camera. In a recent survey of 222 Hong Kong media workers, HKJA found 145 have faced violence from police and members of the public since social unrest erupted in June of last year. About 120 reporters said they had been verbally insulted and pushed by police and subjected to officers’ strobe lights. Responding to a morning police statement that some reporters had been engaged in actions beyond the scope of their reporting, HKJA’s Yeung urged the force to provide more details. Responding to a Post request for comment, police on Monday evening reiterated that they respect the right to report, but urged journalists not to get in the way of law enforcement. The force added that those who felt they were treated unreasonably could file complaints. Separately, HKJA published its annual press freedom index on Monday, which saw Hong Kong score a record low in surveys of the public and media workers. Both groups were asked to answer a set of 10 questions touching on self-censorship, work safety and government interference. The public’s rating on press freedom dropped from last year’s 45 to 41.9 – on a scale of 100 – while that of media workers’ dipped to 36.2 from last year’s 40.9. “Both the public and reporters expressed concern over personal safety threats against reporters … and difficulties in gathering information,” the association said. Help us understand what you are interested in so that we can improve SCMP and provide a better experience for you. We would like to invite you to take this five-minute survey on how you engage with SCMP and the news.