Journalists Deemed to be Terrorists

Text by Yip Yiu-kwan
Translated by Teddy Ng

  It is a reasonable expectation for the host nation of any international summit such as APEC to respect press freedom,and it is rare that a host nation of such APEC summits to be accused of mistreating journalists. I was not worried at all before departing for Bali, but this was something I had never expected to happen three days after I landed there.

  I was assigned to standby at the venue, where Aquino was to deliver a speech. I was supposed to ask him if he would meet with the Hong Kong Chief Executive, and the reasons why Manila did't respond to the email enquiries of the HKSAR government.

  I was at the entrance of the venue with journalists of two other media organizations. We found out that security wasn't as tight as imagined, even though security guards were deployed. The security guards just didn't take any close look at the journalists and even did not cordon off the area which the VIPs would pass through. This was a rare arrangement at an international summit attended by state leaders.

Press passes confiscated without reason 

  Aquino was chatting with a conference guest as he walked past us. It was noisy at that time, and we had no alternative but to ask loudly to ensure that he was aware of our presence. I asked the first question but there was no response. Aquino did not even make eye contact with us. Other reporters asked other questions, but Aquino ignored us. We asked not more than 10 questions in less than a minute before Aquino entered the conference hall.

  Then something unexpected happened when we thought we had finished our reporting stint. Several people wearing official passes seemed to be frustrated with us. One APEC committee official then asked us what we were doing, and I gave him a short reply. He then told us that he needed to take us to the media centre, because we were outside the press area. But he later told us that we had violated rules. I argued with him, but he ignored us and snatched our media passes. He then told us to leave, saying our media accreditations were cancelled.

  It is unacceptable for the organizing committee of any international conference to cancel accreditation of journalists without giving a proper explanation. We had no hope that our media passes would be returned as the information officer of HK government information services told us that the incident “would not be settled within a short period of time.” But still, more unwelcome happenings occurred in the coming days.

Surveillance by security guards

  The next day there were more than 10 security guards deployed to our hotel.I did not know how serious the matter had become, and thought there were just some important guests at the hotel. I did not expect we would be monitored by the Indonesian authorities. One of the guards rushed at me, using his mobile phone to take a picture of me, when I was leaving the hotel for lunch. What I had suspected was proven. I just did not have any strong feeling when other journalists told me that we were under a watch list.

  I was left alone when the summit concluded, after two days of being monitored. CE Leung said he felt sorry
that we could not have our media passes returned when he wrapped up his Bali trip. It has been two months since the incident, and till now, I am still very confused.

Hard to accept authoritarian management

  First, I still don't know what rules I have violated that led to my passes being confiscated. The APEC organizing committee probably believed we had committed two violations: asking questions in an area not designated for the press and shouting. But I could not find such rules in the media guidebook, and no penalties for such violations were stipulated in the guidebook. There was also no notice in the conference venue to tell journalists that asking question was prohibited.

  The APEC organizing committee should inform media of such a rule – if there was any – in an effective manner. Failure to do so simply means that the committee is operating without transparency, or it is not well prepared to deal with the media. On the other hand, if journalists were expelled just because the conference delegates had shown frustration, the organizing committee was resorting to authoritarian management. It is unimaginable that the committee of such an international summit would resort to such uncivilized handling.

  Also, there was no reason for the host nation to ban us from covering the summit, and deploying security guards to stalk us. The four Hong Kong journalists did not possess any prohibited objects or weapons, and they did not clash with anyone in the conference venue. What they did was just asking question and taking footage, but they got their media passes taken away, and being followed by security officers everywhere. They were treated as terrorists.

  I am glad that the whole incident was recorded on camera, and we can use the footage to determine who is right and whois wrong. China and Hong Kong will host the APEC summit next year, and I don't think journalists will be mistreated. But it is still uncertain whether I can carry out my journalistic duties in other hosting nations in the future.