Seven hundred journalists and law-makers in Hong Kong have carried out a protest march after three Hong Kong-based reporters were reportedly beaten by Chinese police in the Muslim majority region of Xinjiang.
The protest, among the most high-profile by Hong Kong’s journalists since China took control in 1997, points to the dilemmas and challenges China faces in administering Hong Kong.
The media in Hong Kong enjoy relatively more press freedom than their counterparts in China. Under the “One Country, Two Systems” model devised after the handover of the former British colony to China, Beijing guarantees freedom of the press in Hong Kong unlike in the rest of China. Hong Kong also has an independent judiciary.
Three journalists who were reporting on recent unrest in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, following a spate of syringe attacks in the city say they were punched, kicked and detained by Urumqi police on September 4. The reporters were covering protests by thousands of Han Chinese, China’s majority ethnic group, who were calling on the government to improve safety after the needle attacks.
The Xinjiang government in its investigation into the incident accused the reporters of “stirring up unrest”, a statement that has seemingly enraged the journalist community in Hong Kong.
Journalists there have expressed concern in the past that they fear Beijing seeks to gradually reduce the freedom with which media in the island currently operate, and many in Hong Kong see the attacks as a move to intimidate reporters from Hong Kong who currently work in China. “This is a violent trampling on press freedom,” said Mak Yin-ting, the chairwoman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association.
“This is not a single incident. Even last year, lots of our journalists were beaten while reporting in China. The situation is getting worse now.”
“The acts by Urumqi city government reflects the total lack of respect for press freedom on the part of mainland authorities,” the Hong Kong Journalists Association said in a statement issued to local authorities in Hong Kong, who have been asked to take up the issue with Beijing. “It is a contravention of the open policy promised by the Central government of China.”
Even usually pro-Beijing voices in Hong Kong have been vocal in criticising the alleged attack and have called on Beijing to take action.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said at a regular press briefing that journalists had to “abide by the rules and regulations” of working in China, and asked the Hong Kong journalists to take the issue up with “relevant authorities”, referring to the Urumqi local government.
“We were accused of breaking the law and not following regulations,” said Lam Tsz-ho of the TVB television channel, one of the reporters who was allegedly beaten. “Is reporting on the news breaking the rules? We would like to know what we did that broke the law.”