Taipei, September 30, 2019 -- The Hong Kong police force should stop firing pepper spray and projectiles at journalists covering protests in the city, and should hold those responsible for such actions to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Yesterday, near the Wan Chai MTR station, police fired non-lethal projectiles at journalists standing apart from protesters, hitting Veby Mega Indah, an editor at the local Indonesian-language Suara Hong Kong News, in the face, according to local daily the South China Morning Post and a statement by Veby’s law firm, Vidler & Company Solicitors, which CPJ reviewed.
Veby was admitted to the Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital with a “severe injury” to her right eye which required stitches, according to the law firm statement. Veby was wearing a press vest, helmet, and goggles when she was hit by the projectile, according to the statement and the Post.
In a separate incident yesterday, a police officer in Causeway Bay fired pepper spray at reporters, according to news reports. The officer sprayed Initium Media photojournalist Lam Chun Tung, who wore a visible press pass, in the face, the outlet said in a statement on Facebook.
“Only an independent inquiry can establish whether these seemingly deliberate attacks on journalists are the actions of rogue officers or are policy decisions taken by Hong Kong’s police; either way, they must stop now,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “It is imperative that the Hong Kong government restore the credibility of the city’s once admired police force, and its reputation for the rule of law.”
According to the Vidler & Company statement, Veby plans to file criminal complaint against the commissioner of police and the officer who fired the projectile, as well as a civil suit to seek damages. The statement said Veby was believed to have been shot by either a rubber bullet or a beanbag round, likely in violation of the manufacturer’s guidelines for the projectile’s use, and said it is possible that she will have “very substantial visual impairment” from the blow.
On Saturday night, police deployed a water cannon that fired blue dye on journalists and protesters near Harcourt Road, according to local news portal HK01. One unidentified journalist said the dye irritated their skin, and suspected that a pepper spray solution had been mixed with the dye, according to HK01.
In a statement emailed to CPJ, a police spokesperson said that “the Hong Kong Police fully respect press freedom” and said that anyone who feels they have been wrongfully treated by the police can contact the Complaints Against Police Office.
The statement also said that police have reported instances of people dressed as journalists attacking police officers, and said that members of the media are “strongly advised to take care of their personal safety.”
The police statement did not directly respond to CPJ’s queries about the incidents involving Veby and Lam. A Hong Kong Journalists Association representative told CPJ via email that the association sent a letter to the police requesting them to supply evidence concerning the allegation that attackers have dressed as journalists, but did not receive a reply.