Forced to urinate in the open...behind bars

Emily Tsang, Ming Pao Reporter

[Nov 2011 - The Journalist] Imagine...there's been a huge explosion. And I'm sent to cover it.

I tell myself I will get as close as possible to the spot where it all went up. Without getting myself hurt, of course.

I can't say this is what every reporter has to do. It's just what I believe I must do.

This gives you some idea of the kind of reporter I am...the reporter who went into the new central government complex at Tamar after covering the Legislative Council proceedings in part of this new structure.

I wanted to see if the Chief Executive's face-saving project had any leakages, any shoddiness to it.

Two other reporters and myself walked all the way over to the new headquarters to look at this new complex.

"Can we go in?" We asked a security guard.


We were told to register for visitor passes.

And so we wrote down the names of our media companies, our names and ID card numbers, put the bright orange passes on our chests and walked straight into the government headquarters.

With the full approval of its guardians and protectors.

Lady held open the door for us

I once asked a few friends to imagine what the outside of the Chief Executive's Office would look like.

They didn't expect there to be missiles or cannons. But there would be a couple of police officers standing guard outside.

By instinct we just wanted to see as much as we could, and report what we had seen through out sneak-peek at this centre of power.

Since Donald Tsang, Chief Executive, had already moved in, I was looking for police officers outside his workplace. How wrong I was to think that that has to be the case.

When we stepped out of the lift, there was nothing. No one. Not even direction signs.

The three of us walked around what proved to be a maze, for nearly an hour. Lost, dazed, we couldn't even get reception on our mobile phones. Even the GPS couldn't tell us where we were.

We walked up and down the headquarters, reaching another structure after going through a long corridor.

Security personnel opened a gate to let us into a hall. Again, no signs whatsoever.

We entered a lift, pressed button three, with faint memories that the CE's Office is on the third floor. A glass door was what we saw when we cautiously stepped out of the elevator.

And a lady just coming out in the opposite direction, held the door for us. I smiled and said “Thank you”. So we walked in.

We didn't know we were already standing right outside the office of Hong Kong's leader.

“Knock the media for its arrogance”

It was simply stunning to find out shortly that we were now about to commit "attempted burglary".

This was all very surreal. It was as if we had entered an “empty city” in which all its gates opened automatically as we approached them. Until we were ambushed. As the doors finally closed on us, an eagle appears on the wall to say: “Aha! We've finally got you! You, reporters have been so arrogant for such a long time...”

The police statement claimed that we were arrested because we had acted suspiciously by showing three different identities!

If I was not the one directly involved, I would – on reading the police statement – have believed that those arrested had prepared fake identifications. And how evil we were to have intentionally disguised ourselves as public officials. What trickery!

But that's not how it was. The passes that we had been issued with couldn't open the glass doors to let us out. The policemen on the other side dashed over.

They bombarded us with questions, demanded to know who we were. In this tense, chaotic situation, we explained ourselves, interrupting each other.

One of us pointed to the visitor badge on the chest, and then quickly brought out a press ID. Indeed there was nothing to hide, we had registered as visitors, and was given the green light to walk around.

We got lost, and though it was a bit of a shame, there was nothing for us to hide. More importantly, no police officer at the scene had mistaken us as staff members.

But when the police released the statement, the three of us had been detained until late at night. We were not allowed to call our newsrooms to explain our case.

This incident has taught me a lesson: the ambiguously-worded police statements are often quite misleading.

During our detention I had a chat with an officer. We both agreed it was “a minor case”, but he revealed that “someone” had given orders to give the media a knock for its arrogance.

While this was meant to be comforting words, they brought me chills. The force enforces the law not based on evidence, but they also try to overawe.

Forced to urinate in the open

The officer was actually quite nice, and I didn’t feel aggrieved. It was the media industry that was angry.

What I lost was seven hours. It would be churlish of me to have got angry. After all, journalists must remain calm and professional regardless of circumstances.

The strongest way to state my case is to give a factual account objectively, word for word. The incident enlightened me about the police, so subsequent comments about “a black shadow” didn’t shock me.

When I was forced to urinate openly behind bars during detention, I was already being given a first-hand look at how police power is gradually expanding.

And that’s only a prelude.

Up until today, there have been countless cases of violation of press freedom by the Hong Kong police.

I recall the calmness I had during detention. In Hong Kong, “I don’t believe in the police, but I believe in the rule of law.”

It’s a blessing in disguise that journalists can still believe that the legal system safeguards press freedom - otherwise there is nothing else to believe in.

( Translated by Damon Pang )