Hong Kong’s police force has been heavily criticized for using pepper spray and allegedly injuring at least two members of the media with rubber bullets or bean bag rounds on Sunday.
At about 5pm on Sunday, Veby Mega Indah, a 39-year-old associate editor with Suara Hong Kong News, was hit in her right eye allegedly by a rubber bullet or bean bag round while police were retreating from an operation on a bridge near the Immigration Tower in Wan Chai.
The Indonesian journalist fell down with serious pain in her eye, but remained conscious. She was sent to a hospital and found to have an injury to her eyeball and a loss of vision.
Video footage uploaded by Suara on Facebook showed how she was shot.
The Indonesian Consulate General of Hong Kong said in a statement that its staff had visited the injured reporter, who was in a stable condition but needed further treatment in hospital.
“We are gravely concerned by these reports of serious injury to a journalist whilst covering events in HK,” the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) said in a statement. “We are particularly concerned by reports that the injury was caused by a rubber bullet or bean bag bullet and that the journalist was not in the immediate vicinity of protesters at the time of the incident.”
The HKJA said the Indonesian reporter was clearly identifiable as being a member of the press and was with a number of other journalists at the time who were also wearing high visibility press markings. It said police officers have a duty to assist the press and facilitate reporting by members of the press and should not cause injury to members of the press.
It said it deplored the use and threat of violence towards journalists covering events in Hong Kong.
Since the anti-extradition protests broke out in June, several people have been seriously injured by rubber bullets or bean bag rounds fired by police during protests. On August 11, a woman lost the vision in her right eye after she was hit by a bean bag round in Tsim Sha Tsui.
In a video on August 26, she condemned the Hong Kong police for becoming “a gang of criminals with the intent to murder, mutilate and assault their very own citizens.” The police have not commented on the case and say they are still investigating it.
At about 6:30pm on Sunday, journalist Tommy Walker was hit by a rubber bullet or bean bag round in his abdomen while he was covering the protests in Wan Chai. He did not go to a hospital.
In the evening, an assistant cameraman with RTHK was struck in the right hand by a riot policeman with a baton after he asked the police why two women who had been detained were forbidden to use their mobile phones. His finger was left swollen and he was unable to extend it fully for a time.
An RTHK spokesperson said the cameraman was doing his duty at the site. RTHK condemned the police for using violence on the press and reserved the right to take legal action. The RTHK Programme Staff Union issued a statement expressed firm opposition to the Commissioner of Police and urged the police to stop violating Article 27 of the Basic Law, which ensures Hong Kong residents have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication.
Meanwhile, police used pepper spray on a dozen of journalists on Sunday.
In the afternoon, a student reporter from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University Students’ Union was attacked by police and was hit in the eye with pepper spray. He was surrounded by riot police after the attack. The police did not allow a voluntary first aid person to help.
The reporter criticized an officer for trying to prolong his pain by spending time questioning the first aid volunteer. An officer also tried to take away the reporter’s mobile phone to stop him from recording. The student reporter was released by the police six minutes after he was attacked.
At about 8:30pm, when riot police retreated from Causeway Bay, they used pepper spray on the press. Several officers were seen spraying a group of journalists without giving any notice before they got in a police car and left.
A photo taken by the Stand News showed an officer smiling while using the pepper spray on a photographer from Initium Media.
Initium Media condemned the police for intentionally aiming the pepper spray at its photographer’s face and equipment and forbidding the press to perform their duty.
During the incident, a dozen other reporters, including those from the South China Morning Post and Asia Times, were also attacked by the police with pepper spray, which causes a burning feeling to the skin and is very painful to the eyes and lasts for hours.
Prior to this, several police officers surrounded a photographer and called him a “fake reporter” in Wan Chai. They asked the photographer to show his media pass and pulled at his equipment, but they stepped back after several journalists urged them to show their certificates of appointment.
Many police were seen using their torches and pointing at the press’ cameras and journalists’ faces in a bid to disrupt their work. They also pushed reporters with their shields and shouted at the press on many occasions.