A memorial event in Sichuan, China, on May 12, 2018, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the province's 2008 earthquake. (Reuters/Stringer)
A memorial event in Sichuan, China, on May 12, 2018, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the province's 2008 earthquake. (Reuters/Stringer)

Hong Kong journalist beaten covering 10-year anniversary of Sichuan earthquake

Taipei, May 15, 2018–Chinese authorities must investigate and bring to justice those responsible for an attack on i-Cable TV reporter Chan Ho-fai in Sichuan Province, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Unknown assailants on May 12 attacked Chan, a reporter for the Hong Kong broadcaster i-Cable TV, while he was covering a memorial event at the Juyuan Middle School in Dujiangyan City, according to news reports and a video posted on i-Cable TV China desk’s Facebook page. More than 200 students and teachers died at the school in the devastating earthquake that took place in May 2008.

In the Facebook video, Chan said he was recording a crowd surrounding a business reporter’s car when two men pulled him away and started kicking his stomach and head. Chan said they also twisted his arms. He suffered visible injuries to his head, arms, and hands.

“Authorities in Sichuan need to take swift action to prosecute those responsible for attacking Chan Ho-fai,” said Steven Butler, CPJ Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “Attacking a journalist for reporting the news is never acceptable.”

The Juyuan Middle School collapsed in the earthquake. I-Cable TV news reported in a video posted on Facebook that parents gathered around the school on May 12 to commemorate the victims and demand a formal investigation into the construction, despite facing government suppression of the parents’ protest.

Hong Kong Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Secretary Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said the bureau is very concerned about the incident and had contacted Sichuan authorities, according to the South China Morning Post.

I-Cable TV’s news department released a statement on air calling the incident unacceptable and requesting a formal investigation and protection of press freedom and journalists’ security. The broadcaster also called the government information office of Sichuan province and the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office to lodge complaints and demand a thorough investigation, according to Mingpao, a Chinese-language newspaper in Hong Kong.

Dujiangyan’s propaganda office that handles non-mainland journalists’ affairs apologized for the incident and reported it to police, according to the South China Morning Post and a video posted by i-Cable TV on Facebook. The office later arranged a media appearance at which two men claiming to be the attackers apologized to Chan. When the reporter asked who they were, they said they were “ordinary people” who had lost family members during the earthquake. When pressed by the journalist to specify which family members had died, the men changed their story and said it was their neighbors who had died.

I-Cable TV did not immediately respond to CPJ’s email requesting comment.

The earthquake and its aftermath are politically sensitive in China. Huang Qi, founder of the human rights news website 64 Tianwang, helped Sichuan earthquake victims’ families expose and report on the many poorly constructed school buildings that contributed to the high death toll. Huang was arrested on November 28, 2016, for “leaking state secrets to foreign entities” and remains in jail.