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Journalists react as police fire tear gas in Hong Kong on September 8, 2019. Police recently fired tear gas and pepper spray at several groups of journalists covering protests in the city. (AFP/Philip Fong)

Hong Kong police hit journalists covering protests with tear gas and pepper spray

September 9, 2019 10:40 AM ET

Taipei, September 9, 2019 -- Hong Kong police must cease their unprovoked use of tear gas and pepper spray against journalists covering protests in the city, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On September 7, police pepper-sprayed a group of journalists who were filming the arrests of protesters in the Mong Kok area, according to news reports and Holmes Chi Hang Chan, a reporter with the independent news website Hong Kong Free Press, who live-streamed the incident on Facebook and recounted it in a statement sent to CPJ.

On September 8, police threw teargas canisters directly at several journalists wearing clearly marked press vests while they were covering protests in the Causeway Bay metro station, according to news reports and footage circulated online showing the attack. One canister appeared to hit a journalist in the helmet and then exploded near another journalist, according to those reports.

“Hong Kong police need to learn that a police badge and a uniform do not amount to a license for indiscriminate attacks against journalists, or anyone,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “The most recent attacks against journalists make clear why an independent investigation into police behavior is essential if Hong Kong is to be a place where rule of law prevails.”

Police fired pepper spray without warning that hit Chan, who was wearing a reflective press vest and a helmed labeled “Press,” in the face, he wrote in the statement provided to CPJ. Chan had two press passes visible and was not wearing protective facial gear, he wrote.

Chan was admitted to the Kwong Wah Hospital and was treated for a “chemical eye injury,” according to a document given to him by a doctor, he said in the statement. The journalists on the scene had complied with police instructions and had not given police any reason to use force against them, he said.

Also on September 7, in Mong Kok, police pepper-sprayed three reporters for local daily Ming Pao who wore helmets and passes identifying them as press, according to a statement posted on Facebook by the newspaper’s staff association.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Journalists Association both issued statements condemning the increasing acts of violence against journalists. Protestors have demanded an independent inquiry into police behavior, according to news reports.

The Hong Kong Police Force did not respond to CPJ's email requesting comment.

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