Assistant police chief Joe Chan says force ‘deeply regretted and expressed strong dissatisfaction’ over Hong Kong Journalists Association statement.
Hong Kong police have hit out at the city’s biggest journalist association for publishing “unverified speculation” after it released a statement voicing concern over incidents in which several reporters said they were followed by men they suspected to be plain-clothes officers last week.
The strongly worded response from Assistant Commissioner of Police Joe Chan Tung on Monday came hours after the Hong Kong Journalists Association issued a statement condemning “attempts to harass and intimidate” media workers. It said several journalists from different media outlets had reportedly been followed.
Chan said the force “deeply regretted and expressed strong dissatisfaction” to the association for quoting “unverified, groundless speculation” by journalists that stalkers were suspected law enforcers.
“It not only affects the reputation of all law enforcers, but also harms the professional image of journalists who report and comment based on facts,” he said.
According to the association’s statement, two men were said to have loitered outside the press room of the District Court last Tuesday following a sedition trial involving the now-defunct online portal Stand News, with one staying for an hour and trying to follow some journalists as they left the building.
It also quoted the reporters as saying they suspected the two men – who had shown their identity documents to the court’s security guards – were plain-clothes law enforcement officers based on their attire and actions.
The allegations first came from a female court reporter from online news outlet Hong Kong Free Press who claimed she was followed from home to her workplace by two unknown men, wearing Bluetooth earpieces, last Wednesday. Police did not respond when asked if the men were known to the force, the report said.
Three reporters from three media outlets had reported two suspected stalking incidents, the association said, while keeping their identities confidential. The body said it had asked police and the judiciary whether the men were officers and whether the force had recently undertaken law enforcement actions against reporters.
It also urged police to seriously follow up on the incidents and bring the suspects to justice if they were not officers to make sure journalists could exercise the freedom of speech, press and publication as protected by Article 27 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.
In a letter addressed to association chairman Ronson Chan Ron-sing on Monday evening, the force’s Joe Chan said police had already launched a probe regarding the case of the Hong Kong Free Press reporter, which had been classified as “request for police investigation”, but had yet to receive any report regarding the District Court incident.
While pledging to continue to assist journalists in exercising their duties, Chan argued the media should also fulfil its professional responsibilities by delivering “accurate and fair” reports and commentaries.
He urged the association, which had posted its statement on Facebook
, to avoid “misleading residents by publishing unverified and inaccurate reports and commentaries”.
The association said those allegedly followed were court reporters
“We are deeply worried that some people are trying to use coercion and threats to prevent journalists from exercising the right to gather news, which would harm the freedom of the press in Hong Kong,” it said.
The association said no civilised society would accept any attempts to threaten journalists.
Relations between the association and the authorities have been tense since the anti-government protests of 2019. Frontline journalists said they suffered hostile treatment and even violence at the hands of police when covering the unrest, while the force hit out at “fake reporters” who interfered with officers’ duties.
In early 2022, the Labour Department asked the association to justify its activities and provide additional financial information about its operations, which were suspected to be inconsistent with its role as a trade union.
Later in September, association chief Chan was arrested and charged with obstructing a police officer while covering a property owners’ meeting in Mong Kok. He is now on bail.