Images relating to the Hong Kong protests have been taken down from the 2020 Sony World Photography Awards website because of their “sensitive nature.” While the finalists are still in the running for a prize, the move has raised concerns over possible censorship.

See also: Ko Chung-ming’s ‘Wounds of Hong Kong’ series – removed from the Sony photography awards website

Contest organisers, the World Photography Organisation (WPO), removed shots from Hong Kong photographer Ko Chung-ming’s series titled Wounds of Hong Kong. The collection, which features ten images that highlighted the injuries and scars people had sustained from the city’s pro-democracy protests, was one of the finalists in the Documentary category.

Ko Chung-ming 2020 Sony World Photography Awards Andrew Chiu
Andrew Chiu, a district councillor, had his left ear bitten off by a man outside Cityplaza mall in Taikoo, Hong Kong, on November 3, 2019. Photo: Ko Chung-ming.

Ko first discovered the link to his collection was broken last Friday. He told HKFP that he thought the website had been attacked, but later discovered two other shortlisted series related to the anti-extradition law protests had been removed as well.

He was referring to the submission by American photographer David Butow titled Battleground HongKong, and Hong Kong Protesters by Australian photographer Adam Ferguson.

Ko Chung-ming 2020 Sony World Photography Awards
First-aider Ah Yan (alias), was hit by a tear gas canister while on duty in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, on November 2, 2019. Photo: Ko Chung-ming.

In an initial reply to Ko’s inquiry, the WPO said his series was taken down temporarily because there had been concerns about the “sensitive nature” of  some of his images.

“We have temporarily taken down the images as part of a standard process which we have to put in place for these type of cases, until we are able to review everything in further detail,” the WPO said.

But the WPO said the list of finalists had not changed, and the contest result will be announced on April 17.

“I don’t know who’s complaining and what their concerns are. But why should any ‘concerns’ not be addressed by the judges at the judging phase?” asked Ko in a response to HKFP. “As long as the final result is up to the jury’s professional judgement, I wouldn’t say there’s censorship,” he added.

On Tuesday, the page for Ko’s series was displayed as “404 Page not found” on the contest site. However, the same link was directed to a “Protected Page” on Wednesday, where a password was needed in order to view the content.

2020 Sony World Photography Awards Ko Chung-ming
Photo: WPO website screenshot.

News of the collection’s removal spread quickly online. Some netizens left words of encouragement on the photographer’s Facebook page, while others criticised the organiser’s move as damaging.

“Photos taken during a war right in the war zone have won numerous awards, but I’ve never seen any of those labelled ‘sensitive nature’. Anyway, thank you so much for your effort and your truthful recording,” one commenter wrote.

“This is ridiculous, [and causes] damage to the freedom of expression,” another commenter wrote.

Update 21/2: In a response to HKFP, Inbal Mizrahi of the World Photography Organisation said: “Each year, following the shortlist announcements of the Awards there are cases in which we get notified about concerns regarding some of the images listed.  This can be anything that is deemed to contradict the competition’s terms and conditions.  In each and every such case we take these concerns seriously and the images in question will always be temporarily made unavailable on our platform until we complete the review process.”

When asked who notified them of a concern, and what issue was raised, Mizrahi said: “Concerns were raised by individual members of our audience and we have found them to be in-line with our terms and conditions.”

Additional reporting: Tom Grundy.

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.