CPJ calls on Hong Kong chief executive to establish body to probe police violence against journalists

October 9, 2019 4:58 PM ET

The Honorable Carrie Lam
The Chief Executive
Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China
Chief Executive’s Office
Hong Kong

October 9, 2019

Sent via email: [email protected]

Dear Chief Executive Lam,

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent organization that advocates for press freedom worldwide, is deeply concerned about the repeated attacks on journalists by Hong Kong police that have been documented by CPJ and other organizations, such as the Hong Kong Journalists Association. The frequency and character of these attacks have created doubts that they are not just unfortunate and incidental actions resulting from other crowd control measures taken by the police, but appear to be targeted and intentional attacks on journalists. The only way to resolve these doubts, uphold freedom of the press, and restore confidence in the police, is to create an independent body that can investigate police actions. We urge you to use your authority as Hong Kong Chief Executive to take the steps necessary to launch such a mechanism.

We welcome your repeated comments as Hong Kong Chief Executive reasserting Hong Kong’s commitment to press freedom and freedom of speech. This is a fundamental right of Hong Kong’s people stated clearly in Article 27 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law. We welcome messages sent to us by the police stating, “Police respect press freedom and the right of the media to report. Furthermore, the Police also understand the interest of the media to film Police work.”

In spite of these statements and clear commitments, however, we have seen disturbing incidents that are difficult to explain as anything other than intentional attacks or, at a minimum, extremely undisciplined and unprofessional police work that should never be tolerated in Hong Kong. Examples of this include the well-documented firing of a projectile that hit journalist Veby Indah, who was standing with other easily identified journalists well apart from any protesters, and who has lost sight in her right eye as a result. CPJ has documented numerous other incidents of unprovoked attacks on journalist with pepper spray or tear gas.

These incidents have severely undermined Hong Kong’s previously well-deserved reputation for freedom of the press, damaged the reputation of the police, and eroded confidence in their actions to uphold Hong Kong’s rule of law, including the rights outlined in Article 27. We recognize that you have said repeatedly that handling complaints through the existing Independent Police Complaints Council would be a sufficient response. However given the scale of the current crisis in Hong Kong, we believe that only a newly constituted body, with full investigative authority, could adequately look deeply into police behavior and restore the confidence that is fundamental to the preservation of press freedom.

In the meantime, we ask that you and the commissioner of police do all in your power to ensure police allow journalists to cover events freely.

Again, we urge you to take steps to establish an independent body with full investigative authority and to take immediate action to ensure our colleagues can carry out their work safely.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Mahoney
Deputy Executive Director
Committee to Protect Journalists

CC: Mr. Stephen Lo Wai-chung, Commissioner of Police, [email protected]

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Ronald Cheng, private secretary to the chief executive, replied to CPJ on her behalf in a letter dated October 25, 2019.]

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