Hong Kong’s press freedom watchdog filed a complaint with the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) on Monday claiming police caused bodily harm to 26 journalists during several days of protest against the city’s controversial extradition bill.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) said the alleged misconduct was a breach of the Basic Law. It called on the Chief Executive to set up an independent committee to ascertain whether a top-level order was the cause of the incidents.
“A media that can do its job without fear is of utmost importance in the balance of police power and public safety as well as the protection of the public’s right to know,” their statement read.
Hong Kong was rocked by protests in recent weeks over the government’s proposed amendments to extradition laws which would allow it to handle case-by-case extradition requests from jurisdictions with no prior agreements – such as China. The bill would enable the chief executive and local courts to handle extradition requests without legislative oversight, although critics have raised concerns over the risk of residents being extradited to the mainland, which lacks human rights protections.
The occupation of the space outside the city’s legislature on Wednesday ended in violence as police deployed tear gas and rubber bullets against crowds advancing forwards throwing objects.
The abuse alleged by the HKJA included:
- 10 cases of police officers firing tear gas bombs at close range towards reporters, three of whom were hit on the head;
- One case of a journalist wounded by an object believed to be a rubber bullet or bean bag round;
- At least one reporter was hurt when police officers pushed them away using shields and batons;
- Two cases of projecting strong lights at cameras making filming difficult;
- Three cases of police searching journalists without reason.
The cases outlined by the HKJA arose between June 10 and 14 and were reportedly verified using photographs or videos provided by journalists or peers who witnessed the incident.
HKJA said that aside from a few journalists who were concerned about their safety or their employers’ policies, all agreed to provide background information to the IPCC.
“Hong Kong police should ensure the safety of the press during protests, not use force against them or block them from reporting,” said Committee to Protect Journalists Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna in a statement.
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The watchdog added that all journalists affected had their press credentials clearly displayed on their helmets or high visibility vests and were not standing among protesters when the incident happened: “The Association has therefore sufficient reasons to believe that those abusive officers were fully aware of their journalists’ identity,” their statement read.
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