Hong Kong police chief Chris Tang has said that the treatment of the press during Sunday’s protest dispersal operation in Mong Kok was “undesirable,” adding that officers should have been more professional.
The commissioner of police made the comment at a Yuen Long District Council meeting on Tuesday after pro-democracy legislator Roy Kwong accused officers of “attacking” reporters in a “terrorist-like” manner.
On Monday, eight local journalist associations issued a joint statement condemning what they saw as police abuse of power and suppression of press freedom the night before.
The statement cited incidents in Mong Kok where officers ordered journalists to kneel and stop filming, firing pepper spray at them at close range and calling on them to read out their personal details – including their names, Hong Kong identity card numbers and media organisations – in front of a police camera.
More than 200 people were arrested across the city as crowds gathered to chant slogans and block roads following protest gatherings at shopping malls in multiple districts.
Apple Daily reported that one of its photojournalists was choked by a police officer for around 20 seconds while she was being restrained. Ming Pao also published footage of police leading one of its photojournalists into an alley and demanding that he switch off his cameras.
Kwong said in the district council meeting that reporters were exercising their duties as the fourth estate but became the target of law enforcement. He asked Tang if any officers were going to be held accountable for their actions, and urged the top cop to apologise on their behalf.
“Police should not have treated the press like that… if you truly respected the press, you would at least tell us how you would make amends,” Kwong said.
Tang did not apologise but admitted that police could improve their handling of the media. He said the force would hold meetings with relevant journalist associations next week to come up with ways to “make it more convenient” for reporters to do their job.
“Regarding the treatment of media that day, I also think it was undesirable. I think we have to reflect, review or even ask our colleagues to understand what happened at that time. I also think we have to be more professional,” he said.
Asked by reporters after the meeting about whether police would consider introducing a press accreditation system, Tang said they were open to different options and suggestions: “We don’t have any conditions. We will consider any good strategy that can benefit both parties.”
“I will take responsibility for all problems. That is exactly why I am hoping to have a detailed discussion with the journalist associations next week to further improve the situation.”
Tang also said the force would set up a panel, led by an assistant commissioner, to investigate allegations of police misconduct and to identify as well as improve “high-risk work procedures.”
His comments came after two officers were arrested last week for possession of a total of more than 25kg of methamphetamine, suspected to have been taken from a police drug haul. Some high-ranking officers have also been accused of breaking land and property laws.