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Hong Kong journalists protest over being pepper-sprayed by police

Protesters on World Press Freedom Day (美國之音特約記者 湯惠芸拍攝/WikiCommons)
September 10, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

A Hong Kong journalists’ association on Monday hit out at the city’s police force after special-force officers sprayed a number of reporters with pepper spray, injuring several, during a protest in Kowloon’s Mong Kok district at the weekend.

“Around 10.30 pm Saturday (Sept 7), police officers were charging to drive away protesters and make arrests outside Pioneer Centre in Mongkok,” the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) said in a statement, as reporters showed up for a regular police news briefing wearing masks and hard hats in protest.

According to the HKJA, all of the journalists present were clearly identifiable and had complied with police requests to keep their distance as arrests were being made, when two officers from the “Raptors” Special Tactical Squad sprayed at least eight journalists including one from AFP, two from Cable TV and three from the Chinese-language Ming Pao newspaper.

“With no protesters around, police officers sprayed pepper spray at reporters at the scene,” the group said. “Several frontline journalists were injured … two had spray on their faces.”

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“We condemn police violence and taking journalists as their target of attack – deliberately and with hostilities – in obstructing reporters’ work,” it said, calling on the police force to take seriously the lack of emotional control and abuse of power among frontline officers.

The HKJA called on police to provide the identities of the two officers, to enable the reporters to lodge a formal complaint, as police media liaison officers had responded with hostility when asked about the attack.

The statement came as students at high schools and universities across Hong Kong formed human chains between campuses on Monday to show support for the five demands of the anti-extradition movement, which include the formal withdrawal of amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance that would allow extradition to mainland China and an independent inquiry into police violence since early June.

Some students also showed up five minutes late to class to represent the five demands, which also include an amnesty for more than 1,000 arrested protesters, an end to the description of the protests as “riots,” and fully democratic elections for the chief executive and for LegCo; something that Beijing ruled out on Aug. 31, 2014, sparking the Umbrella movement for democratic reform.

Meanwhile, former Umbrella movement leader Joshua Wong was redetained as he tried to board a flight to Germany on Sunday, only to be released later after the judge corrected a mistaken date on his conditions of bail.

Wong, who is on bail after being charged with “inciting others to participate in an illegal assembly” in relation to a protest outside police headquarters on June 21, said his re-arrest was part of an ongoing fear campaign by the authorities. The authorities had earlier said he would be allowed to travel to Germany and the U.S. while on bail, but his departure date had been incorrectly recorded.

On Sunday, thousands of people gathered outside the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong to call on Washington to pass human rights legislation that would require a review of the city’s separate trading status in the event of human rights violations.

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The leaderless anti-extradition movement has been increasingly vocal in its support for the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, a 2017 bill by Marco Rubio and Chris Smith, co-chairmen of Congressional Executive Commission on China that would “establish punitive measures against government officials in Hong Kong or mainland China who are responsible for suppressing basic freedoms in Hong Kong.”

“If some Hong Kong officials are found to have done something that violates Hong Kong’s freedoms and the rule of law, the U.S. Congress is entitled to cancel their U.S. passports or could freeze their assets,” a participant told RFA on Sunday.

“Human rights are already being violated, so if the bill isn’t passed, it will create even more panic and disturbance for the people of Hong Kong,” the protester said.