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Police in riot gear pass a burning barricade in Hong Kong on November 2, 2019. Journalists covering the unrest are at risk of injury as police and protesters clash. (Reuters/Thomas Peter)

CPJ Safety Advisory: Covering unrest in Hong Kong

November 8, 2019 4:09 PM ET

Police and protesters continue to clash in Hong Kong, especially on the weekends. Incidents in recent months that CPJ is aware of include journalists hit by pepper spray, tear gas, or projectiles fired from crowd-control weapons; police briefly detaining journalists; and demonstrators attacking journalists whom they believed were affiliated with pro-China news organizations. Journalists should not assume that wearing clothing or carrying identification that marks them as press will provide protection.

Journalists covering the protests should consider the following steps:

Physical Safety

  • Wear a yellow vest marked 'PRESS' in English and Cantonese on the back
  • Display media credentials and ensure they are accessible at all times
  • Avoid wearing black T-shirts, which are associated with the protesters, or white T-shirts, which are associated with Hong Kong triads (organized crime gangs)
  • Be aware of the risks from water cannon, which can cause serious injury if you are hit at close range. Authorities have used water cannon with colored dye to try to identify protesters
  • Prepare for additional scrutiny from authorities and ensure that you have media accreditation to hand
  • Be aware of the risk from fireworks, molotov cocktails, rubber bullets, gas canisters and, potentially, live ammunition. Maintain situational awareness at all times and avoid getting in the line of fire
  • Wear a helmet for protection, and clothing and footwear that allow you to move swiftly. Avoid flammable materials
  • Wear eye protection. Tinted protective goggles can help protect against laser pens and strobe lights. Ballistic goggles or other eye protection are also useful. Weather conditions in Hong Kong are currently warm and wet, so ensure that eye protection is ventilated to avoid it steaming up. Avoid wearing contact lenses
  • Avoid working alone and be sensitive to the safety of your fixers and guides. Avoid putting them in situations that might cause issues for them with the authorities
  • International teams should work with someone who speaks Cantonese, because many protesters and police don’t speak English
  • Use back watchers, or additional security staff, who can watch for risks or threats while a journalist or photographer is working in high-risk environments
  • Carry sufficient water, snacks, and clothing in case of kettling or prolonged protests
  • Be wary of aggressive protesters, who may object to being photographed. Protesters can become aggressive if filmed while vandalizing property or breaking the law, and may shout or try to block cameras

Tear gas

Authorities have used tear gas to disperse protesters. Those with respiratory issues and asthma should take the following precautions:

  • Bring a full-face respirator with a filter for organic gases
  • Ensure that your respirator is carefully fitted to the size and shape of your face
  • Ensure that you have a spare canister for the respirator. Canisters need to be changed if the respirator is used for prolonged periods
  • Respirators can be bought in Hong Kong, though international journalists should consider bringing them from their home base
  • Be aware of new regulations on masks. Hong Kong introduced regulations on face coverings in October, including on the use of respirators to protect against tear gas. The government said that journalists are exempt. However, the Hong Kong Journalists Association said in a statement that the law extends to gas masks that are “routinely worn by journalists at demonstrations to protect against the effects of tear gas and other noxious substances and irritants used by police for crowd control”

Digital Safety

  • If travelling into mainland China, take a clean phone rather than one used in Hong Kong. Chinese security officials have checked phones for photographs of the protests or contact with known protesters, the South China Morning Post reported in August
  • Ensure that your digital devices are secured with strong passwords and 2FA
  • Ensure that you have a full battery on your mobile phone
  • Be wary of offers of battery packs to recharge phones. A security adviser who is covering the protests told HP Risk Management, a security firm that works with CPJ, this tactic has been used to remove information from digital devices

Transportation

  • Hong Kong airport, MTR stations and bus services have previously been disrupted by the protests, so plan ahead and allow extra time for all journeys
  • Ensure that you have a street map as roads can be closed with little or no notice

Hong Kong police currently offer weekly off-the-record briefings for all journalists and daily press conferences.

CPJ’s online Safety Kit provides journalists and newsrooms with basic safety information on physical, digital, and psychological safety resources and tools, including on covering civil unrest.

Journalist requiring assistance should contact CPJ via [email protected].

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