Hong Kong police pepper spray reporters as protests start again
Pro-democracy protesters, defying a Covid-19 ban on gatherings, are expected to increase activity into the summer
Hong Kong — Hong Kong’s police chief said on Tuesday that his officers should have been more professional in dealing with media during protests at which they pepper-sprayed journalists and made some kneel in a cordoned-off area.
Police arrested about 230 people after protests on Sunday in which hundreds gathered in shopping malls to sing and chant pro-democracy slogans, defying a ban on groups of more than eight, aimed at reining in the coronavirus.
“Regarding the media experience on that day, I also think it’s undesirable,” Chris Tang told a district council meeting. “I think we need to review, and even look into, what happened at that time. I also think we should have been more professional.”
Police in the Asian financial hub had fired pepper spray and run stop-and-search operations on the public and media, with the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association saying filming by some media was blocked.
Video images posted online showed police pushing journalists, as well as dozens of people, some in yellow vests with press markings, being forced to kneel on a sidewalk behind a police cordon.
The former British colony, which does not require authorities to vet a press pass, has a long tradition of vibrant media, with volunteer reporters for scores of online student publications covering protests since they erupted last year.
On Monday, police said they took two student reporters, aged 13 and 16, who had attended the previous day’s protest, to a station “for their safety”, but without arresting them, and their parents later took them home.
In a letter to Hong Kong press associations, police said that while the force respected freedom of speech and media, officers had, in the past, seized fake press passes and faced obstruction from some people in yellow press vests.
After about three weeks with no Covid-19 transmissions in Hong Kong, protests are expected to pick up steam into the summer months, to press for democracy in the city that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.