The Hong Kong Journalists Association on Thursday strongly condemned Chinese security officials for the violent treatment of journalists reporting on confrontations between police and Wukan villagers in Guangdong province.
Journalists from Hong Kong said they were beaten and detained by Chinese police while attempting to cover the violent crackdown on protesters in the small fishing village Wednesday.
The South China Morning Post and Ming Pao, a liberal Hong Kong newspaper, both reported that employees were assaulted and subsequently detained Wednesday night while attempting to interview villagers about the protest.
The reporters were inside a villager’s house when police kicked in the door and forced them to kneel on the ground. One of the reporters was punched in the stomach, while another was slapped twice in the face, one journalist said. Police then took the three journalists to a local police station, where they were questioned for several hours before being forced to sign a letter promising never to return.
Two more reporters were stopped from entering the village and were taken to the local police station, where they had their phones confiscated and fingerprints taken.
“We feel outraged. The reporters were covering a big news event. That is their job," said Shirley Yam, vice chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Association and columnist for the Morning Post. "There is no reason that Chinese local police should treat them like that. This is totally unacceptable.”
Yam went on to say Hong Kong-based reporters covering mainland China are often subject to explicit and implicit threats of violence. HKJA has formally called upon the Hong Kong government to look into the matter and “take effective measures to protect the rights and safety of Hong Kong journalists working on the mainland.”
Ming Pao also issued a statement on Thursday condemning Chinese police for “brutally suppressing the freedom of the press and endangering the safety of reporters.”
In downtown Hong Kong on Thursday, members of the city’s Democratic Party gathered outside government headquarters to show solidarity with the Wukan villagers and demand a government investigation.
The Global Times, a newspaper with connections to the Chinese Communist Party, blamed foreign media for encouraging and planning “the organized chaos in Wukan,” which holds a particular significance in China after protests in 2011 over an allegedly illegal land grab put it in the global spotlight.
Watch video of Wukan clashes (not independently confirmed):
Wukan villagers began protesting recently after their leader, Lin Zuluan, was arrested last week on corruption charges. Video of the protests shows villagers throwing rocks at police dressed in riot gear and police responding with rubber bullets and tear gas.
Some villagers said that authorities have urged them to report on press or “foreign forces” hiding in the village. Informants will allegedly be rewarded 20,000 yuan (U.S. $3,000) per report.
In the meantime, China denies allegations of civilian suppression and claims that the situation in Wukan has returned to normal. When asked about events in the region at a news conference, Guangdong province Governor Zhu Xiaodan left after saying there had been no crackdown.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Mandarin service and with information from wire services.