The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) has filed a legal challenge against the police over what it described as improper treatment of media at ongoing protests.

The legal challenge was made on Thursday against the Commissioner of Police in relation to officers allegedly failing to facilitate journalists’ activities in accordance with their constitutional and legal duties.

September 22 Prince Edward Mong Kok police station protest
A journalist after being hit by pepper solution. Photo: Tam Ming Keung, Kaiser/USP United Social Press.

“We firmly believe that freedom of expression and freedom of the press are the cornerstones of Hong Kong that must be maintained. We look to the court to exercise its supervisory role and seek the declarations from the court so that the [Hong Kong Police Force] and the Commissioner of Police can be held to account,” HKJA said.

Among the affected journalists’ testimonies submitted by the HKJA to the court was a statement from an HKFP staffer relating to a case in September.

The HKJA also said journalists have been subjected to “a pattern of deliberately aggressive and obstructive police tactics as well as unnecessary and excessive force” since demonstrations began in June.

Hong Kong has seen over 17 consecutive weeks of protests sparked by an ill-fated extradition bill which would have allowed fugitive transfers to China. The sometimes violent displays of unrest have since morphed into calls for universal suffrage, an investigation into alleged police brutality, amnesty for those arrested, as well as other community grievances.

The HKJA added that it had previously brought its concerns to the attention of the police chief and the government but no effective remedial actions were taken.

police press conference full gear journalists protest

However, police have repeatedly defended the use of “minimum force” to disperse protesters, saying that officers are entitled to use such tactics when under attack.

Chief Superintendent John Tse from the Police Public Relations Branch said last month that it was difficult for officers to distinguish real reporters from fake ones owing to the number of people wearing reflective vests during protests. He added that police have seized falsified press credentials in the past.

The HKJA said the judicial review application referred to incidents of abusive and insulting language, use of high-intensity lights and strobe lighting to interfere with visual recording equipment, exclusion of reporters from newsworthy scenes and locations, deliberate blocking of reporters’ line of sight, as well as deliberate withholding of police officers’ identities. It also noted incidents of journalists being beaten, kicked, pepper-sprayed, targeted with tear gas, having tear gas grenades thrown at them, water cannon jets directed at them and being hit with rubber bullets and bean bag rounds.

The judicial review does not include cases that occurred within the past 14 days, including a case that an Indonesian journalist’s right eye was hit by a police projectile, according to Vidler & Co. Solicitors.

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Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.