HK journalists faced "unprecedented" assaults during protests: watchdog

HONG KONG - Hong Kong's journalists faced an "unprecedented" number of assaults last year as political tensions surged during a massive pro-democracy movement in the city, a press freedom watchdog said on Sunday.

A ruling by Beijing restricting how Hong Kong choose its next leader sent discontent surging in the southern Chinese city last year, sparking mass street rallies for more than two months.

More than 30 journalists were harassed or physically assaulted by either protesters or police during the demonstrations, the Hong Kong Journalists Association said in its annual report on press freedom in the city.

"It was a range of assaults from getting hit by water bottles to being punched and kicked. Some have got their cameras pushed down and dragged onto the floor," the independent watchdog's vice chairwoman Shirley Yam told AFP.

"In terms of physical assaults it was definitely a record (year)."

China ruled last summer that the public could vote for Hong Kong's chief executive for the first time in 2017, but the move has been derided as "fake democracy" by the opposition as candidates must first be vetted by a pro-Beijing committee.

The bill enshrining that measure was voted down by pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong's legislature last month.

Hong Kong was a British colony until it was handed back to China in 1997 and is ruled under a "one country, two systems" deal that allows it far greater civil liberties than those enjoyed on the Chinese mainland, including freedom of speech and the right to protest.

But there are fears that these liberties are fading with greater influence from Beijing.

Amnesty International said in November that Hong Kong police had used "unjustifiable force against protesters, bystanders and journalists" when authorities cleared another campaign site in Mongkok, which was also the scene of some of the most violent clashes of last year's rallies.

Yam said few perpetrators were held accountable.

"There were cases that occurred during chaotic situations, and it has been difficult to get the people responsible to face the music," she said.

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