Hong Kong’s journalism watchdog has accused the police of assaulting reporters during a clearance operation in Mong Kok on Monday night.

Large crowds gathered outside Mong Kok police station to protest the decision to send the “raptors” – a nickname for the Special Tactical Squad – into the Prince Edward MTR station on August 31. News footage showed officers storming the platform and train carriages, beating people with batons, as well as using pepper spray against cowering passengers.

Protesters occupied sections of Nathan Road and threw eggs and shone laser pointers at the police station. Members of the public also placed flower bouquets at one of the exits of Prince Edward MTR station to express sympathy for those injured.

september 2 mong kok china extradition
Photo: Jimmy Lam/USP.

Riot police arrived on the scene at around 10:20pm and arrested 23 people.

Now TV news footage showed an officer using pepper spray against journalists who were trying to get a view of a woman being arrested. At the time, the woman had been wrestled to the ground, as officers blocked a nearby paramedic who was offering medical treatment.

mongkok sep 2 china extradition protest
Photo: inmediahk.net.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) said in a statement that the police “used pepper spray against journalists at a close distance without any protesters around, without anyone charging and without issuing a warning.”

“The HKJA expresses strong disapproval towards the police attacking journalists at will, and strongly condemns the police for its violation of the freedom of the press,” the statement read.

Tear gas was fired shortly afterwards in the general direction of the reporters, with those on the scene questioning whether it was used to stop them from recording the arrests.

Now TV added that one of its cameramen was later pushed to the ground by a “raptor,” resulting in an injury to his left arm that required medical treatment at hospital.

On Monday night, a police officer was also caught on video putting his hand over the mouth of a woman being arrested, preventing her from speaking.

september 2 mong kok china extradition
Photo: Jimmy Lam/USP.

The woman was pushed to the ground by officers as nearby journalists asked for her name. A reporter from the City University of Hong Kong asked the officer why he was covering the woman’s mouth but received no reply.

At their daily press briefing on Tuesday, Chief Superintendent John Tse from the Police Public Relations Branch said that pepper spray was used because officers were surrounded and attacked. There were many people wearing reflective vests at the time, and it was hard to tell who was a real reporter, he said, adding that police had seized falsified press credentials in the past.

As for the Now TV cameraman being pushed, Tse said the victim had already made a complaint so he could not comment on the case.

The HKJA said that it has urged Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo to address issues of police obstructing reporters from doing their work.

“Since the conflicts started in June, there have been cases of police officers losing control of their emotions and targeting journalists… [including] stopping journalists from reporting, using flashing lights, dispersing journalists without reason, insulting them, surrounding them, and even using violence,” the Tuesday statement read.

‘You dropped your conscience’

Shortly after protesters were dispersed on Monday, riot police chased down a passerby who shouted criticism at officers.

mongkok sep 2 china extradition protest

“Where were you on July 21?” asked a man in a white shirt, referring to the Yuen Long mob attacks which saw a delayed police response. “Did you drop something? Did you drop your conscience?”

According to footage shot by Apple Daily, several officers chased the man down and beat him with batons in the middle of Nathan Road.

The man could be seen bleeding from the head, and his shirt showed red splatters. After being detained by police, he shouted: “What did I do wrong? I was only scolding you… You hit me six times.”

mongkok sep 2 china extradition protest

The man was led away in a police van after a few minutes. Officers at the scene did not respond to questions about whether the man was arrested.

Bradley Wright, district commander for Mong Kok, said the person was arrested for disorderly conduct in a public place. The specifics of the case was still under investigation, and police may seek advice from the Department of Justice, he added.

Hong Kong’s recent protests and unrest was sparked by the ill-fated extradition bill, which would have allowed case-by-case fugitive transfers to China. Since June, large-scale peaceful protests have morphed into sometimes violent displays of dissent over Beijing’s encroachment, democracy, alleged police brutality, surveillance and other community grievances

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Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.