The Foreign Correspondents’ Club Hong Kong condemns the arrest of freelance photojournalist May James, who was asked to remove her face mask by police while covering a protest in Mongkok on Sunday evening, October 27. At the time, she had identified herself as a journalist, wearing a high-visibility yellow vest, a helmet and backpack marked with the word “press” and produced a press identification card when questioned, according to footage of the arrest.
James was searched, arrested and then detained overnight at a police station in Kowloon. She was released early today. As a freelance photographer, James has photographed the protests for Hong Kong Free Press, AFP and others news organizations. She has shared her experiences documenting the Hong Kong protests in The Correspondent, the FCC’s magazine, as well as on a recent FCC panel with other photographers and video journalists, where she discussed the risks and responsibilities of her job.
Several other reporters were also required by police to remove their face masks in the course of their reporting duties Sunday night, despite government assurances that journalists would be exempt from the face-mask ban while carrying out their professional duties. These masks are used by reporters to protect against tear gas and pepper spray, and by law, anyone who requires the masks for professional use should be exempt from the regulation. Police appeared to use force when removing the masks and interfered with the work of reporters covering the street protests.
On Sunday night, a representative from the FCC was able to reach out to two spokesmen from the Hong Kong Police Force, including the acting superintendent for the Police Public Relations Branch, to ascertain James’s whereabouts. The contacts were a result of the FCC’s recent meeting with police representatives. Opening this channel of communication was a practical outcome from our meeting with the police and helps in the defence of journalists and FCC members.
The FCC again calls for an independent investigation into police violence against journalists and interference with the media’s right to cover the protests under Hong Kong law. The FCC urges that an investigation should be transparent.
We have expressed our concern about such incidents since the start of the protests in June, yet violence against journalists and interference continue. These incidents, including the arrest of the photojournalist last evening, undermine Hong Kong’s reputation as a place where the media can work freely, without harassment or intimidation.
October 28, 2019