An Indonesian journalist hit in the face by a rubber bullet during protests in Hong Kong has been permanently blinded in one eye, her lawyer has said, in what is the most serious injury among members of the media since the movement began in June.
There are growing concerns about the threat to journalists from the escalating violence, and an increasingly hostile climate that saw one reporter arrested on Tuesday, after several others were injured by police and one by protesters in a day of chaotic violence. All were wearing high-visibility jackets and “press” markings.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) on Thursday filed a judicial review against the commissioner of police and the secretary for justice over their treatment of the media, listing a pattern of “obstructive tactics” and “unnecessary and excessive force”.
The legal complaint does not include violence from the past two weeks, when the most frequent and damaging attacks on journalists began.
Veby Indah, the Indonesian journalist who lost the sight in one eye, was hit on Sunday, while standing with colleagues on an overpass, filming a live stream.
Police opened fire towards the group from relatively short range; footage shows someone shouting a warning – “Hey, it’s journalists on this side” – but seconds later she was hit and collapsed to the ground.
She was later told that damage to her right eye was irreversible. “Doctors treating Ms Indah have informed her that regrettably the injury she received as a result of being shot by police, will result in permanent blindness in her right eye,” her lawyer Michael Vidler said in a statement late on Wednesday.
“She was informed that the pupil of her eye was ruptured by the force of the impact. The exact percentage of permanent impairment can only be assessed after surgery.”
The 39-year-old is an associate editor of Suara Hong Kong News, a local outlet which serves the city’s Indonesian community.
The HKJA said it would investigate the case. “We are particularly concerned … [because] the journalist was not in the immediate vicinity of protesters at the time of the incident, she was clearly identifiable as being a member of the press and was with a number of other journalists at the time also wearing high-visibility press markings.”
The “one country, two systems” arrangement put in place when Hong Kong returned from British colonial rule to Chinese sovereignty protects freedom of the press, and the protests have been covered by hundreds of local and international reporters.
But there are growing fears that violence and heavy-handed policing is obstructing the media. Alleged protester threats against pro-Beijing outlets are also a concern.
On Tuesday several journalists were injured in “day of grief” protests called to mark China’s national day. Pang Pui Yin, a reporter for the Chinese-language news website Local Press, was arrested by police as they dispersed protesters in Mong Kok district, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Even though he was clearly identified as a member of the press corps, police initially accused him of unlawful assembly, then bailed him after alleging that he assaulted a police officer. He has been released on bail, but the CPJ called for authorities to drop all charges, and “cease harassing journalists covering protests”.
Journalists who were injured that day include one working for the public broadcaster RTHK, who was hit in the head with “some kind of projectile”. In response the outlet’s English language unit withdrew all reporters from the ground.
Apple Daily said a teargas canister hit one of its reporters in the stomach, and officers fired at but missed two of its team. Stand News reported several injuries, including one journalist who was hit in the face by what was thought to be a sponge-tipped round. Another was hit by a rubber bullet.
Police were also accused of pushing and shoving reporters, and one video posted online showed officers aiming a gun at the face of reporters, who were wearing “press” markings and high-visibility vests.
Protesters on Wednesday apologised for spraying corrosive material on a journalist while targeting police officers. Police officials have not commented on media injuries.
The HKJA warned that journalists had a right to work without violence or obstruction.
“We strongly condemn all acts of violence against frontline journalists and urge the police and demonstrators to refrain from maliciously obstructing their regular interviews,” it said in a statement.
“Anyone who intimidates or attacks frontline journalists on the ground seriously interferes with the freedom of the press and weakens the public’s right to know.”
Additional reporting by Lillian Yang, by https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/03/hong-kong-protests-journalist-blinded-in-one-eye-as-attacks-on-media-escalate