IFJ reminds Hong Kong Police to use their powers to protect press freedom

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association are concerned about reports that the Hong Kong Police are preparing to arrest journalists at the annual July 1 street rally organised by the Civil Human Rights Front. Chinese-language newspaper Apple Daily reported on June 29 that leaked information says police will act if the media is “obstructing police in exercising their duties or ignoring their advice”.  At an informal gathering with media yesterday, a representative of the police department noted that the police will assist the media in conducting their journalism duties, provided they are reporting within the law.  The representative did not answer questions about whether they would arrest journalists.   July 1 has become a traditional day for protests since Hong Kong was handed over to <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">China</st1:place></st1:country-region> in 1997. Today’s rally will focus on calls for universal suffrage in the 2017 election for the next Chief Executive. The IFJ, its affiliate the Hong Kong Journalists Association and the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association deplore the behaviour of the Hong Kong Police during recent crowd control situations, when they ignored the media’s rights and failed to ensure journalists’ safety. The leaked information appears to give the police even more scope to violate the media’s rights. On three consecutive Fridays, beginning on June 13, a group of protestors rallied outside the Legislative Council Complex against moves by the Finance Committee to change the rules and pass a bill for government funding for preliminary work on development plans in the <st1:placename w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">New</st1:place> <st1:placetype w:st="on">Territories</st1:placetype></st1:placename>. Many journalists, photographers and members of camera crews from Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), Hong Kong Television Broadcasting (TVB) and Cable Television were injured during a scuffle after the protestors tried to storm the Complex. Police used pepper spray without warning, and took an RTHK journalist away when he filmed officers removing protestors. A journalist said a female superintendent ordered the frontline policemen to push and remove journalists, even though they knew the media were working. On June 27, several journalists, photographers and members of camera crews of Hong Kong Asia Television and Cable Television were pushed by police officers when they were surrounded by a large crowd of people. The media workers were trying to film protestors who were sitting on the street. When a number of officers stormed the group, pushing the media workers against a fence, a camera operator almost fell with a heavy camera. One officer said:  “I’m warning you. Don’t obstruct police when we are exercising our duties.” The journalist said: “I was surprised because all of us, including the policeman, were unable to move a bit but he harangued me. The officer warned me not to touch his colleague’s hand, which I did not do. Then I felt that my waist was being firmly held by a policeman. ” A female journalist suffered a similar experience. When she was trying to remind a police officer not to touch her breast again, the officer said: “Don’t touch me, don’t obstruct me. We are exercising our duties. ” A camera operator said: “The attitude of the police was very hostile, which was quite different from before. They kept scolding us and ignoring the fact that we have a duty to report.” The IFJ has received at least 10 complaints from journalists about the police’s attitude and rough crowd management techniques, and their failure to assist the media in carrying out their duties. The IFJ Asia-Pacific Office said: “The police justified their actions by saying the officers did not know who were journalists, but we doubt this. Many of the journalists who complained are TV journalists, who were holding equipment from well-known TV stations. Many journalists were carrying their press identification cards, but this did not help when chaos developed.” The IFJ argues media workers should not display their press ID cards because they could attract unwarranted attention. At least two videos, already uploaded to YouTube, show police officers accusing the media of “obstructing police in exercising their duties”, without any grounds for making that claim. “It is dangerous that police accuse the media and even threaten to arrest media workers when they are unable to manage their behaviour during a crowd control action. It is abuse of police power and undermines people’s right of press freedom under the Basic Law, the constitution of <st1:place w:st="on">Hong Kong</st1:place>.” The police need to be monitored by the media and the public to prevent them abusing their powers . We urge supervisors of all media outlets to support their colleagues to lodge a complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) in order to defend the media’s rights. We also urge Larry Kwok Lam-Kwong, the new chairperson of IPCC, and IPCC members to  independently investigate those complaints in order to help the police and the media to carry out their duties smoothly. We request that Andy Tsang, the Hong Kong Police Commissioner, remind all police officers that the Basic Law enshrines the rights of press freedom and freedom of assembly. We also urge Andy Tsang to respond to the report in order to clear up any misunderstanding.