Police abandon Police General Orders for July 1 confrontation

Ken Lui - Executive Member, HKJA

[中文][Aug 2011 - The JournalistAfter the July 1 demonstration police cleared the area with overwhelming force, arrested more than 200 demonstrators and, in the process, used pepper-sprays to subdue resistance. Some of the reporters on the spot were also roughly handled by the police. At least 19 frontline reporters were pepper-sprayed; some sprayed directly in the face even after identifying themselves to be reporters. Others were pushed, hit by the police and even choked or held down by their heads. One was arrested.

The police on high alert, using pepper spray on demonstrators and reporters
When the police were clearing the area around Central, they extended their blockade to Admiralty during which they deliberately harassed a TV cameraman who had clearly identified himself.

On July 15 the Hong Kong Journalists Association and the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association sent five representatives to meet with the Police Public Relations Bureau to discuss the police mistreatment of reporters, use of excessive force and severely hindering freedom of reporting.

HKJA and the police first discussed the issue of the police blockade.

According to Chapter 39 of Police General Orders police at a crime scene “must act with an attitude of understanding and mutual respect, and do their best to work with the media, and should not try to hinder video-taping by media”.

The Chairperson of HKJA, Ms. Mak Yin-ting, pointed out that while the police were clearing the demonstrators, for a period of time the blockade was unreasonably extended. They were clearing people in Central but the police blockade was extended all the way to Admiralty.

Unreasonable blockade during crowd dispersal.
“Less dogmatism, more flexibility”

HKJA pointed out that during such police action it is not reasonable to impose a blockade larger than necessary. Mak Yin-ting stated that HKJA had consulted human-rights lawyers and their conclusion was that an excessive blockade is tantamount to “confinement”.

Mr Li Kin-fai, Chief Superintendent of PPRB responded by saying that when police took action a blockade must be established, one purpose of which was to separate the people that are involved from those that are not. He also said that when police clear an area, reporters clearly displaying identification will not be arrested. Mak Yin-ting responded immediately that when the reporters cover an event, there is a need for them to stay at the scene to observe, so excessive restrictions are intolerable. “Police cannot expect the reporters to automatically follow your orders to leave. Even reporters working at Zhongnanhai operate under these rules.”
HKJA also tried to discuss the fracas and police harassment of reporters who could clearly prove their identities. One of them was a cameraman of a TV station. He had left his backpack and reporter’s ID inside his company’s vehicle but he was carrying a full-size camcorder with the TV station’s logo when he tried to enter the area. Yet the police insisted that he must show his reporter’s ID before he could be allowed into the blocked off area.

Even though his colleague, a TV reporter, told the police that they were employees of the same station, the police still tried to stop him. He was allowed to enter only after a long argument.

The representatives of HKJA expressed opposition to such police attitudes, saying such situations should be handled with less dogmatism and more flexibility in order not to hinder the work of reporters.

The police representatives insisted that the only way to prove a reporter’s credential was for the reporter to show his proper ID card. A HKJA representative replied that his organization would remind all reporters to carry IDs at work but, nevertheless, expressed disapproval of the bureaucratic attitude of the police.
He said that since the cameraman was carrying a full-sized camcorder with his TV station’s logo, and his colleague had also vouched for him, the police should not have persisted in denying him entry into the enclosed area. “Are you trying to tell me that after all this the police still suspected that person to be a thief who had stolen a TV station’s camcorder to impersonate as a reporter?”

Trainee reporter arrested

The police representative later agreed that this kind of situation should be handled with more flexibility.
During the police operation, at least 19 reporters were pepper-sprayed. An HKJA representative pointed out that while reporters working in such chaotic situation were mentally prepared for such eventualities, and as long as the policemen do deliberately target newsmen, the reporters will not protest. However, he pointed out that during the clearing of demonstrators, some reporters were deliberately pushed and hit by the police, and a reporter from the print media was deliberately sprayed in the face – after identifying himself. Furthermore a number of reporters were subdued by policemen who pushed them down and held them down their heads. HKJA made it clear that such actions were not acceptable.

The police representative said they had not received any information concerning such kind of incidents, and stated that these kinds of actions should not have taken place. If they did, the reporters should file complaints.
The HKJA representative countered that while working at the scene, the reporters’ first priority was to record the situation there, so hardly any of them will waste their time to argue with the police over such issues.
I believe all reporters who had previously dealt with the Independent Police Complaints Council hold a certain degree of doubt about the trustworthiness of the organization.

Another issue raised by HKJA was the arrest of a 19-year-old trainee reporter when police were clearing the demonstration area because she did not carry her reporter’s ID. The police treated her as a demonstrator.
The HKJA representative pointed out that she was arrested while she was standing next to her TV cameraman who was carrying a full-size camcorder, which should have indicated that she was a reporter at work. But the police department representative stated that she was not able to produce an ID and that “at the scene she did not declare that she was a reporter”. The report made by that reporter does not agree with such a statement.

Police media team on-the-spot

The police representative also said the reporter did not declare herself to be a reporter in her statement given to the police. The HKJA representative questioned him immediately if any police officer, who should know the investigation procedure in detail, had given her clear instructions about her rights, and how she could file a complaint if she wanted to?

A day before this meeting, Andy Tsang Wai Hung ,Commissioner of Police replied in public to the questions concerning what happened that evening by declaring that “nobody has special privileges”.

He claimed that all those arrested that evening were people who were believed to have been involved in illegal activities, and alleged that “the attitude of behaving uncooperatively on one hand and using the media to air accusations on the other does not help the investigation”.

During my interview with the trainee reporter she said she had repeatedly informed the police that she was a reporter doing her job yet the police chose to ignore her claims.

After her release, she was only told that she must report back to the police station in December. Nobody told her whether she could or could not provide the police with information concerning her being retained without proper cause in this period of time.

There were numerous instances of reporters being wrongly manhandled during the clearing operation. Joseph Tung, Superintendent of PBRB, who also attended the meeting, said that their media team whose duty was to coordinate action between police and media workers, was at the scene, as they always were when there were activities involving large crowds.
The police employing headlocks and handcuffs, even on reporters. (Photograph courtesy of Ming Pao)

Anyone got through to PPRB yet?

But the HKJA representative questioned the effectiveness of the team's efforts, saying that if the police media team functioned as it was supposed to, there would not have been any undesirable encounters that night.
He asked the police to provide a channel so that there could be immediate communication. This could be just a cell phone number, so that if any conflict arose between police and media workers in future, a member of the police media team could be quickly summoned to settle conflicts.

The reply from the police was that the reporter could call the hotline of the media section of the PBRB.
My question: When was the last time any reporter managed to get through to the PBRB?

Besides the problems of the July 1 demonstration, the representatives of HKJA and HKPPA also complained about the restrictions imposed the media outside Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Hong Kong SAR. HKPPA representatives pointed out that recently the police had begun to bar media photographers from the flower boxes area outside the building, which is the best spot for taking pictures. The police have been instructing reporters to take pictures in the area designated for the media which does not directly face the main entrance.

The HKPPA representative pointed out that the reason given by the police was that “it is dangerous to stand behind the flower boxes”, but at the same time, policemen are allowed to stand on the flower boxes to monitor the demonstrators. HKJA expressed its strong protest against this so-called “reason”, which it describes as “unintelligent”, and requested the police department to withdraw this restriction.

The police representative promised that the Western Police Station would follow up on this. Well, we have documented their official reply here. So, let's see.

Translated by Chan Hung-chee