The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) has criticised the police and education minister Eddie Ng Hak-kim over the detention of two Apple Daily reporters who pursued the government official on Christmas Eve.

HKJA chairperson Sham Yee-lan said that the pair’s 90-minute detention sets a dangerous new precedent, giving police free rein to remove reporters under the premise of charging them with loitering, regardless of subsequent prosecution.

The two detained reporters.

Sham said on Monday that Ng had a right to report the matter to the police if he had reasonable grounds to believe that there would be a threat to his safety or an invasion of privacy. However, Sham emphasised that the reporters were merely doing their jobs. “The reporters got onto a car to pursue the interview… objectively speaking, how does it qualify as constituting a threat to personal safety? I don’t see it.”

Sham also said that even the Chief Executive had been followed and that it was “a very normal way of doing things,” Ming Pao reported.

Hong Kong Journalist Association chair Sham Yee-lan. File

Sham suggested that, in future, police should check reporters’ identification documents and confirm their identities on the spot by phoning their employers or checking with the Police Public Relations Bureau, Commercial Radio reported.

Instead, the reporters had their requests to make a phone call denied, and were sent to the Central Police Station for further questioning.

Ng himself also became the subject of Sham’s criticism for directly informing the Security Bureau of the matter via his own government department. The Security Bureau then transferred the case to police—a move that, Sham said, was calculated to exert more pressure on police, who did not react in the usual manner as a result

Sham said she was worried that the detention of reporters could subsequently become the norm in Hong, adversely affecting press freedom in the city.

Apple Daily editor-in-chief Chan Pui-man also said on Monday the paper is considering filing a case with the Complaints Against Police Office, adding that their reporters did not interrupt Ng’s schedule for the day nor invade his privacy.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.