Riot police are seen in Tai Po, Hong Kong, on November 3, 2019. Police recently arrested two journalists amid protests in the city. (Reuters/Ahmad Masood)
Riot police are seen in Tai Po, Hong Kong, on November 3, 2019. Police recently arrested two journalists amid protests in the city. (Reuters/Ahmad Masood)

Hong Kong police fire pepper spray, arrest 2 journalists covering protests

Taipei, November 4, 2019 — Police in Hong Kong must stop attacking and harassing journalists and ensure the safety of reporters covering protests, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Yesterday, Hong Kong police fired tear gas and pepper spray at journalists covering protests in Mong Kok and at other locations in the city, according to reports by local broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong and newspaper Apple Daily.

Police also arrested two journalists, freelance photojournalist Joey Kwok, who was working for the news website Stand News, and Nelson Tang, a Hong Kong Baptist University journalism student who was reporting at the protests, according to Apple Daily and local news website Hong Kong Free Press.

Police released Kwok from custody today without pressing charges; he had been accused of “obstructing a police officer in the execution of his duty” while photographing the protests, according to a statement published on Facebook by Stand News.

Police released Tang on bail after alleging that he was “acting in a disorderly manner in public,” according to the Hong Kong Free Press. He is required to report to the Chai Wan Police Station at an unspecified future date, according to that report.

“These repeated gratuitous attacks on journalists by the Hong Kong police have severely undermined the government’s stated commitment to press freedom. It’s beyond time for authorities to stop these abuses and agree to a truly independent investigation into police behavior,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “Protesters also need to need to stop harassing journalists when they disagree with the angle of coverage.”

In its statement, Stand News condemned Kwok’s arrest, saying he was wearing a press credential at the time, and said it was seeking legal action against police wrongdoing. The outlet reported that police injured Kwok’s back during his arrest and escorted him to a hospital. In its statement today, the outlet said he was in “good mental and physical condition” and would continue reporting.

Stand News and Radio Television Hong Kong published video of Kwok’s arrest.

A representative from the Hong Kong Journalists Association told CPJ in an email that police have used pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets against journalists in multiple incidents over the past two weeks.

In an October 9 letter to Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, CPJ called for an independent investigation into police behavior. A response signed by Lam’s private secretary, Ronald Cheng, said that any investigation would be handled by existing institutions.

On November 2, protestors vandalized the Hong Kong office of the Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency, throwing petrol bombs and paint in the outlet’s lobby and drawing condemnation from the Hong Kong Journalists Association as well as the Chinese government, according to news reports. No one was injured in the attack, according to news reports.

The Hong Kong police force did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.