OPC Member Reports from Front Lines in Hong Kong

Riot police secure an area in Mongkok district in Hong Kong on Oct. 20 as anti-government demonstrations in Hong Kong stretch into their fifth month. Photo: Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images

by Chad Bouchard

OPC member Suzanne Sataline has witnessed turmoil in Hong Kong from close range while covering protests, and experienced firsthand how police are targeting and intimidating journalists.

She wrote an extensive piece for The Atlantic recounting how over the last five months, “police tactics have grown more sudden, more violent, and more arbitrary against civilian demonstrators and the press.”

Sataline is a freelance writer and editor based in Hong Kong and New York and has been an OPC member since October 2016. She said in an email that the OPC’s press ID helped her during a scuffle with Hong Kong police to identify her as an American journalist, and that “ultimately, the credentials got me released.”

But as she wrote in The Atlantic, Hong Kong colleagues working for local press are not faring as well as they bear most of the brunt of police pressure and violence. However, international journalists like herself still face intimidation, she said.

Sataline recounted escalating police tactics since June when protests began, when police at first would simply move journalists away from protesters, using lights or strobes to disrupt video devices. But as protesters grew more bold, police ramped up their use of force.

In her story, she mentions a harrowing exit during a clash between police and protesters in early October as she and her interpreter, Tommy Lau, ran with respirator masks on as they dodged bricks and Molotov cocktails, only to smash into police shields and get jostled and shoved, “I crashed into a billboard, saved by my skateboard helmet,” Sataline wrote. Her helmet bore a sticker with the word “PRESS” on it, and her OPC press credentials hung from her neck. Despite these clear labels, an officer hit her on her hand and the top of her head, and another pointed a baton inches from her face.

The OPC ID helped her to be released, shoved into a scrum of journalists separate from arrested protesters. She lost track of Tommy, the interpreter until later. He has now joined the OPC and an ID is on its way to Hong Kong, along with that of another colleague, student journalist Wong Wai Ling.

Sataline outlined other, more severe cases of violence against journalists, including the beating of William Pang, a volunteer offering tech support for Local Press who was wearing a clearly marked press uniform, as well as a list of abuses tallied by the Hong Kong Journalists Association. That organization has filed a lawsuit against the city’s police commissioner and other officials for violating press freedom protections outlined in the city’s constitution.