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Journalists wear safety equipment at a police press conference in Hong Kong in protest at their treatment. Photograph: EPA

Hong Kong journalists warn of rising police violence against them

Reporters covering protests say officers using pepper spray and teargas, among other abuses

WT24 Desk

Journalists covering the protests in Hong Kong are experiencing increasing violence at the hands of the police, according to media groups and first-hand accounts from reporters, The Guardian reports.

A range of abuses have been reported, including being shoved and indiscriminately hit with pepper spray or teargas by officers, prompting the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club to renew calls for an independent investigation.

Over the weekend, the club said it had seen an increasing number of incidents involving police violence against journalists covering protests in Hong Kong, with assaults on journalists becoming more serious and impeding their ability to work. Frontline journalists regularly wear reflective vests and press credentials when covering demonstrations.

The International Federation of Journalists reported more than 30 violent incidents against journalists from 9 June to the end of August, from police, bystanders and even protesters on some occasions.

Police pepper-sprayed a group of reporters after they made a number of arrests on Saturday night, including the journalist Holmes Chan, who was livestreaming the incident for Hong Kong Free Press. Chan said police first pushed the group back and then used pepper spray against them without warning.

“At least one of those bursts hit me squarely in the face, arms and chest,” Chan said. “I wore a reflective press vest, and did not have protective gear on my face except for my helmet, which also read ‘press’.”

Despite being immediately treated by volunteer medics, Chan said he had trouble keeping his eyes open and struggled to stay upright. He ended up in the emergency room with a “chemical eye injury”.

In a separate incident on Sunday, police lobbed a teargas grenade at a group of mostly reporters from inside a subway station without warning, scorching the press vest of an Australian photojournalist, Jared Stone, after it exploded.

Hong Kong’s government agreed last week to withdraw an extradition bill that prompted a summer of protests, but demonstrators want other demands to be met, including direct elections of city leaders and an independent inquiry into police actions.

As the protests haves escalated, police have increasingly used water cannon, teargas, rubber bullets, beanbag rounds and severe beatings to quell protests, and also chased protesters into residential areas, metro stations and even ferry piers. Protesters have thrown molotov cocktails at police, and vandalised and set public facilities on fire.

Police have been accused of making it more difficult for reporters to do their work, allegedly shining bright lights or torches directly at photographers and video crews, according to the Hong Kong photojournalist May James.

James, who says she was pepper-sprayed by police over the weekend while taking photos, has covered the protests since they began and said interactions with the police have gradually deteriorated over the past three months, particularly when journalists try to document arrests of anti-government protesters.

“I felt sorry for them [at the beginning of the protest] but now it seems like they have too much power,” she said. “There’s a lot of anger towards the journalists.”

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