By Serenade Woo
Since September 22, tens of thousands of protesters have choked the streets of Hong Kong to protest for universal suffrage against the Central Government of China. Serenade Woo explores the challenging environment that journalists and media workers have had to overcome in the last ten days.
Since the first tear gas was fired by the Hong Kong Riot Police towards unarmed Hong Kong protesters on September 28, the veil of the Hong Kong Government has been lifted. Many people, including Hong Kong’s journalists, understand how this government treats her citizens.
On September 22, the Hong Kong Federation of Students began a week of student strikes and encouraged secondary students to join them a few days later on Friday, September 26. Exceeding expectations, the students broke into the Hong Kong Government Headquarter Complex public area sparking off a confrontation between police and students. Police used pepper spray to disperse protesters, but it was all in vain. It only triggered more people to stay outside the Complex, and in the early hours of September 28 it sparked the beginnings of the Occupy Movement. Thousands of people soon began their occupation of the major roads at the juncture of Admiralty and Wanchai. It was around that time that police then started to firing tear gas to evict the protesters.
During the confrontation, a number of journalists from outlets including Hong Kong-based Hong Kong Asia Television, Digital Broadcasting Cooperation, Hong Kong-based Apple Daily, Hong Kong-based online publisher InMedia and myself suffered brutal treatment by police. Some were hit by police batons, jostled and manhandled, and many were caught in clouds of tear gas and pepper spray, all the while trying to report on the demonstrations.
Police were abusing their powers. Journalists trying to take photos of the protests near the ‘restricted area’ were stopped by police and had their credentials checked. Since the beginning of the protests, this typically Mainland practice has become increasingly widespread by Hong Kong police. Unfortunately, many journalists followed the orders of the police to avoid any hassles and have since tried to distinguish themselves from citizen journalists.
As the protests started to gather more traction, many people began to experience a slow-down in internet traffic around the protest zone. Many journalists found it increasingly difficult to access the internet or make phone calls. This naturally impacted the sharing of news, as many television media struggled to transmit their signals back to the television station. According to Google Transparency Data, there was a drastic drop in internet access on the night of September 27 to September 28. On September 28, Radio Television of Hong Kong reported that police would block all communication networks covering the juncture of Admiralty and Wanchai area, where the first tear gas was fired and where the protests had spread.
While quite a number of journalists believe the poor access to the internet at the epicenter of the Movement was because many protesters have stayed there and were overcrowding the internet. I, however, also experienced difficulties using communications networks that morning of National Day, while many protesters were still sleeping.
In 2005, when Hong Kong police used tear gas against South Korean farmers who intended to storm the World Trade Organisation meeting venue, journalists were not attacked, nor did they experience difficulties with access to communication networks. But the blocking of networks is not a strange or new phenomenon on the Mainland. In July 2009, a series of violent attacks in Urumqi, Xinjiang, claimed the lives of 200 people. At the time, Xinjiang police shut down all communication to the city.
While attacks on media are continuing during this newly-dubbed “Umbrella Revolution”, devastatingly there are still some media calling it illegal. The Central Government of China has demanded Hong Kong’s media should stand firm in this accusation against the Occupy Movement. At the same time, the Central Government of China continues to attack the movement and ensure the security of Leung Chun-Ying, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong.
Having witnessed this first hand, people and most journalists understand that democracy is as important as bread and butter. Democracy may not fix everything, but without it our human rights will be undermined. If we don’t take some action now, it won’t exist.
Serenade Woo is the IFJ China Press Freedom Project Manager
The IFJ Asia-Pacific is supporting journalists and media in Hong Kong as they work to share recent events with the world. As a result, they too have succumbed to attacks from authorities. Censorship of images and news by the Chinese authorities has been globally documented.
Under its Press Freedom in China project, the IFJ Asia-Pacific office has been closely monitoring the steady decline of press freedom in Hong Kong. In March this year, the IFJ along with its affiliate the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) wrote a letterto the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Leung Chun-Ying outlining ongoing concerns for press freedom in Hong Kong and included a long list of violations over the past year. The IFJ and HKJA also launched a global campaign with IFEX calling on Chief Executive Chun-Ying to improve press freedom in Hong Kong. While the CEO responded and affirmed his commitment to press freedom, he is yet to give any concrete plan of action to put this commitment into effect nor did he respond on the series of incidents highlighted by the IFJ.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946
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