Photojournalist Risks His Life in Hong Kong

September 24, 2020 Updated: September 30, 2020

On Jan. 17, 2010, Alex Cheng, a photojournalist at Mad Dog Daily, a Hong Kong-based online newspaper, noticed that he was being followed stealthily by two people. But he ignored them.

The following night, on his way home, he was pushed down a long flight of stairs by an unidentified assailant. His left shoulder and arm bones were seriously fractured.

This incident reminded him of his recent investigation into a suspicious death. The Hong Kong police claimed a man allegedly committed suicide by jumping from a high-rise building in Ko Cheung Court in Kowloon. But some suspect the man could have been murdered because of the way he fell, based on a video footage that caught the incident.

Cheng used to be a commercial photographer with more than 10 years of experience. His current work as a photojournalist has allowed him to capture the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. Recently, he shared his story with The Epoch Times.

Beaten by Police, Tripod Saved his Life

On Dec. 15, 2019, in the late night, Cheng was live streaming an incident in which a police officer was arresting a protester on the sidewalk at Mong Kok district.

A policeman shouted at Cheng to go up onto the sidewalk. Cheng replied, “Sir,  I’m already on the sidewalk.”

That policeman burst into anger and shouted, “I demand you to step back! Follow my order!”

In fact, there was no cordon line marked by the police at the scene, Cheng said.

Cheng raised his press pass into the air to show the policeman his identity. Then suddenly, a man came up to Cheng and sprayed his face with pepper spray. Immediately, several other riot policemen came over. They blocked other journalists with batons and shields in their hands. They pushed Cheng aside and beat him hard with batons.

Luckily, the legs of his tripod, which he was carrying on his back, negated the impact of the batons and saved his life.

“30 percent of my left hand’s capacity has been lost,” he disclosed.

Cheng was arrested and charged with obstructing the government administration.

HK Police Takes Away Press Freedom

Cheng said the Hong Kong police moves the goalposts as they please. Enforcement is often illegal and unreasonable.

One day, Cheng and his fellow journalists were in Yuen Long. The police said to them in a friendly manner: “My friends! Come over here for a photo.” As soon as they followed the instruction and got ready, the police immediately surrounded them with an orange cordon and ordered a full search. Afterwards, they were all taken back and the police warned them against streaming.

Another police incident occurred in Yuen Long during a late night. Cheng and one of his colleagues were sitting at a park where they were uploading the photos they had taken in the daytime. Then a riot policeman came up to them. Suddenly, the policeman sprayed pepper spray directly into Cheng’s eyes, which caused a painful burning sensation. Cheng and his colleague quickly gathered their things and left the park.

In a separate incident, journalists were again ordered to cease streaming. Cheng came forward to insist upon press freedom. Then, one of the police shouted back: “Press freedom, if I give it to you, you’ll have it; if not, you’ll have none!”

At that moment, all the reporters fell into silence.

PolyU Incident: ‘As if all the People Were Being Raped’

In November 2019, during the siege of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), Cheng stayed there for more than 30 hours, and live streamed for eight hours.

The police attacked the students with pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannon.

“I’ll never forget all those hours,” Cheng said. A Special Tactical Squad rushed into the First Aid  Room, and “attacked anyone they met. They wouldn’t even spare those ill people lying on the bed.” Then they caught many protesters and took them away swiftly.

Cheng described the disastrous scene in the PolyU: “As if all the people were being raped.”

Hong Kong Turning Into a ‘Prison’

On July 1, 2019, Cheng was moved by young pro-democracy protesters who were demonstrating outside the Legislative Council. On that day, over 550,000 protesters took part in a march to demand lawmakers to scrap a controversial extradition bill. The extradition bill was formally withdrawn three months later.

“They were there not for disrupting Hong Kong or for fun. They clearly knew what they were doing despite potential dangers ahead. They have a noble character, I would say.”

As Hong Kong’s rule of law has worsened, Cheng believes that the environment of press freedom is increasingly collapsing.

In his eyes, Hong Kong, a beautiful city as it was, is becoming a prison. “Hongkongers are living in a prison … much of what we had possessed was gone in 2019.”

Not long ago, Cheng made backups of all the videos he had created. He hopes the future generations will find them useful and meaningful.

“They are a testimony of my experience of witnessing such inhumane incidents,” he concluded.