Police reject criticism over attacks on media at protest sites

December 17, 2019 12:53
Police spokesman Kong Wing-cheung, speaking at a news briefing on Monday, had defended the conduct of law enforcement personnel amid allegations of violence against media workers covering the anti-government protests. Photo: RTHK news video/screenshot

Facing intense criticism from the media over attacks on journalists covering the anti-government protests, the police insisted that their officers would never deliberately target media personnel and that reporters should follow some procedures to ensure their safety while on duty. 

Media workers at protest sites should avoid staying close to police cordon lines when dispersal actions and arrests are being conducted, the police said.

In a regular press briefing on Monday, Senior Superintendent Kong Wing-cheung of the Police Public Relations Branch reiterated that police operations only target "rioters".

However, as rioters tend to "despicably" mingle with the crowd, the police have reminded journalists many times that they should pay more attention to their safety amid the chaos at the scenes of protest, Kong said.

The remarks came after a student reporter from the Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) was hit by a tear gas canister in the face and sent to hospital for treatment on Sunday night when officers were using force to disperse anti-government protesters in Mong Kok.

The HKBU management said it was very concerned about the incident involving the student reporter. It said that it had immediately contacted the editorial board of the students’ union to follow up on the injured pupil's needs and to provide necessary assistance.

In a statement, the board denounced the police, saying the tear gas canister in question was fired at the student on purpose.

Also on Sunday, a photojournalist for online media outlet Mad Dog Daily was pepper-sprayed in his face after he briefly argued with the police, and was beaten with batons before being arrested. The online media outlet on Monday issued statements condemning the police violence.

Online video footage showed the Mad Dog Daily reporter told the police that he was already on the pavement, saying “How can I step back further?”, before he was pepper-sprayed and pushed against the wall, and then beaten with batons.

Questioned about the incident, Kong said the police were making arrests of a number of protesters on the scene and had sought to create a safe distance by telling the crowds of people there to back away.

"On that particular occasion, [the reporter's] verbal abuse was very likely to cause a breach of the peace at the scene,” Kong said.

“Our officer had given him a warning to stop his illegal act or disorderly act; unfortunately he didn’t follow the warning of the officer,” he said, defending the police action.

Kong added that the reporter did not wear a press vest nor present a press card.

“And after the officer used pepper spray, [the reporter] had a bit of physical contact with the officer and so the officer decided to arrest him for obstructing a police officer."

As the reporter had put up a struggle, the officer used minimal force to subdue and arrest him, the police spokesman said.

In the wake of the incidents on the reporters, the Hong Kong Journalists Association and the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association issued a joint statement severely condemning the frontline police officers for obstructing, interfering with and violently targeting media workers who were performing their duties.

The associations once again urged the police to treat the issue seriously and rectify the situation as soon as possible.

According to the police, 27 canisters of tear gas and three rubber bullets were fired on Sunday.

Kong also said 99 people had been arrested during the past week. Among them, 31 were arrested during operations against demonstrators in different districts on Sunday. The arrested on Sunday included 17 students, a situation which he said was worrying.

The total number of arrests that have been made since June has risen to 6,105, with nearly four in 10 of them being students, according to the police.

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