Hong Kong journalists beaten in Xinjiang — even my taxi driver’s mad
I was in a taxi a few days ago, and the driver went off about the Hong Kong journalists beaten while covering the Xinjiang unrest.
The subject caught me so off-guard — and the driver was in such a rage — that I wasn’t sure what side he was on at first. I get cabbies of all different political leanings and never make assumptions.
"They should be punished!" he yelled, shaking his fist out the window. "Punished!"
"Who?" I asked. "China? Or the journalists?"
"China, of course!" he snapped.
That was late last week, when there was little political reaction and the details were still sketchy. It was just being announced on the radio, which is what the driver was reacting to.
We chatted about it for a while. While my driver was no media expert, he had a pretty firm grip on what journalist were and were not allowed to do under a free press.
He made the astute point that, while the HK journalists were not treated well, they were still far better off than their mainland counterparts. He expressed real sympathy for mainland reporters, and said "without a doubt" that most mainland people had little knowledge of their own news.
This taxi conversation meant more to me than the many articles and official statements about this issue. (There are lots in Chinese at the Hong Kong Journalists Association website).
While I think suppression of independent news on Xinjiang is a big deal, I do live in a little bubble of U.S. media and press issues. It’s hard to know if other people care.
That a taxi driver would be so informed and so emotional about this meant it had really hit a nerve with the Hong Kong public.
BTW, I didn’t mention that I was a journalist. I wasn’t heading somewhere obvious, like a political demonstration. It really did come out of the blue.
From reporting by Regina Leung at the South China Morning Post:
“Last Friday [Sep 4], three journalists — TVB reporter Lam Tsz-ho, a TVB cameraman, and a Now TV cameraman — were tied up, handcuffed, beaten and briefly detained by police while covering protests in Urumqi… Police in the region also briefly detained another three Hong Kong journalists on Sunday. [Sep. 6]”
Meanwhile, Ng Tze-wei of the SCMP writes: "They were pinned to the ground by People’s Armed Police officers, kicked and punched before being tied up and taken away."
The police should not be tying people up and beating them, unless there is literally no other method of controlling armed, violent, dangerous people. I can’t imagine three Hong Kong TV cameramen causing a physical threat to armed troops. (I remember the Korean WTO riots in Hong Kong. Our police turned non-violent control into an art form. There are ways of handling difficult crowds. This is not it.)
When pressed, the Xinjiang authorities said the Hong Kong reporters did not have the right papers. (Unlike the free world, China requires its reporters to carry special permits.) TVB denied this, and called the Xinjiang official a liar. But, even if some guy was missing a piece of paper, being tied up and beaten is certainly not a punishment that fits the crime. Could you imagine, in Hong Kong, if you went outside without your HKID and some cop kicked the crap out of you for it?
“The controversy intensified on Tuesday [Sep 8], when Hou Hanmin, director of the Xinjiang Information Office accused the three reporters of inciting protesters in Urumqi.”
This is just, well, crazy. T.V. cameramen are not rioters. They are professionals doing a job, which is to take video. As Hong Kong Cantonese, they have no personal interest in Uiyghur vs. Han conflict in Xinjiang. Seriously, the average Hong Konger would have had a hard time finding Xinjiang on a map a few weeks ago. (And nobody seems to be able to pronounce “Uiyghur” — I say "Wee-gur".) The cameramen were probably concentrating on getting a few good clips.
As for the word “inciting,” that seems to be a favorite accusation thrown at anyone who displeases security officials. It’s like the "state secrets" charge always used for writers.
What was interesting was the political fallout in Hong Kong. Of course, you expect the Civic Party and the pan-Democrats to speak out about this. Same with the HKJA and FCC.
But Cheng Yiu-tung, a delegate to the National People’s Congress, said he would demand an investigation and request an apology. And, hey, he’s an NPC comrade.
Michael Tien, another NPC comrade and member of the Liberal Party, said Xinjiang should apologize if an investigation found they had done wrong. He called on Beijing to “get to the bottom of this.” These are not the types usually standing up for press freedom.
Li Gang, from the mainland’s “liaison office” with Hong Kong, said he would pass the message onto Beijing. Then he spouted some of the normal sugar-coated stuff, to reporters on the mainland. “These incidents should be solved harmoniously and rationally.”
The SCMP article gave the last word for a former NPC guy, Tsang Hin-chi: “I think the media should tone down their coverage of it – no matter who is right or wrong,” Mr. Tsang said. “I hope the central government can make a fair assessment after investigating it.”
Let me translate for you: Don’t say anything till the central government tells you what to say. It’s a good thing Hong Kong never listens.
Ulaca points out this great SCMP headline: “"Parties unite over beating of journalists." Well, given our fractious politics, I’m glad the parties have finally united on something.
From what I heard from a reporter friend, the meeting between Hong Kong journalists and a Xinjiang spokesperson didn’t proceed quite so “harmoniously and rationally.”
First of all, most of them weren’t even told of the event. When they got there, our famously boisterous media scrum shouted “Shameless! Shameless!” at the officials. They pelted them with questions and demands that they present proof that the Hong Kong journalists had done something wrong.
One mainland official – unused to such uncensored criticism and raw anger – pointed a finger back and shouted “You should apologize! You should apologize!”
EastSouthWestNorth has a good translation of an Asiaweek (Yazhou Zhoukan) article with all the details here.