Riot police hold back members of the press in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong on May 10, 2020. Police attacked and arrested journalists covering that protest. (AFP/Isaac Lawrence)

Hong Kong police attack and detain journalists covering protests

May 11, 2020 1:00 PM ET

Taipei, May 11, 2020 -- Police in Hong Kong must stop attacking and harassing journalists, and should ensure their safety while covering protests in the city, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests had stopped amid the COVID-19 outbreak earlier this year, but recently reignited as the city's daily reports of new infections sharply declined, according to news reports.

Yesterday, Hong Kong police detained two reporters with Student Depth Media, an online news outlet founded in February by secondary school students, while dispersing protesters in the Mong Kok area of Kowloon, according to news reports and a statement posted on Facebook by the outlet.

Riot police took the reporters to the Tsim Sha Tsui police station and then released them without charge, but said the journalists, aged 13 and 16, whose names were not disclosed, would be arrested again if they were seen at protests, and threatened to report their parents for criminal negligence, according to Student Depth Media.

Police also pepper sprayed an Apple Daily photographer who was covering the protests, and choked her while restraining her, according to a report by her employer, which identified the journalist only as “Jessica.” She was treated at the Kwong Wah Hospital for pain in her head and neck and for burning in her eyes, according to that report, which noted that Jessica was wearing a press vest and had her press pass visible at the time of the incident.

According to news reports, police ordered groups of journalists to kneel and stop filming the protests, and fired pepper spray that hit dozens of reporters.

“Hong Kong police must allow journalists to do their jobs, and stop attacking and harassing them for covering protests,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “The police force’s failure to tolerate working journalists covering demonstrations only further erodes the city’s once-admired reputation for press freedom and the rule of law.”

In its statement, Student Depth Media said that the police “severely interfered with the journalists’ reporting and press freedom.” Hong Kong Journalists Association Chairman Chris Yeung expressed anger over the police violence, according to news reports.

The Hong Kong Police Force did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.

In December 2019, CPJ issued a special report entitled “One Country, One Censor: How China undermines media freedom in Hong Kong and Taiwan,” which documented the erosion of press freedom in Hong Kong and Taiwan