The detention of two journalists performing their normal duties by police on Christmas Eve has given rise to concern that the freedom of the press in Hong Kong is under threat, Ming Pao Daily reported on the weekend.
The two Apple Daily reporters followed the official car of Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim in a van when he left the government buildings in Admiralty at about 5 p.m. Thursday.
Several inspectors from the Central Police Station crime unit stopped the journalists – one surnamed Yuen and the other, Lai – near the MTR Central Station.
Even after they showed the inspectors their press cards, they were asked to step out of the van and present their HKID cards.
Apple Daily said Yuen was refused permission to make a phone call to his employer.
The reporters were then taken to the station, accused of “loitering”, and were eventually released after an investigation lasting an hour and a half.
Police were apparently acting in response to a case referred from the Security Bureau, which received a report earlier from the Education Bureau requesting help from the police because Ng felt he was being followed by unidentified people and cars several times during the week.
Chan Pui-man, Apple Daily’s editor-in-chief, said following a government official with the intention of obtaining an interview is a common practice by journalists.
She regretted that Ng, who she said should have known better, was ignorant of that fact.
Chan also criticized the police for not checking the identity of the two reporters on the spot but detaining them instead.
She said Apple Daily was considering taking appropriate action, including filing a complaint to the Complaints Against Police Office.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association said in a statement Friday that it strongly condemns the detention of the two journalists, as this unprecedented incident is an outright infringement of press freedom.
Trailing a subject is a normal and essential part of investigative reporting, the statement said, and following a senior government official to monitor his or her behavior is in the public interest.
The association said it is absolutely unacceptable for the police to arrest journalists on assignment despite their providing proof of their identity.
It said it is concerned this will set a bad precedent, making journalistic work increasingly impossible.
The Hong Kong Press Photographers Association also issued a statement Friday, saying press freedom should be respected and mutual understanding is necessary so that such an incident will not recur.
In response, the police force said it has always respected press freedom and appreciated the importance of keeping effective communication with the media and that it will do its best to maintain good relations with the media and enhance mutual cooperation.
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