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IFJ condemns APEC's expulsion of eight Hong Kong journalists

The International Federation of Journalists joins the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), in condemning the organisers of the APEC summit in Bali for expelling eight Hong Kong journalists without providing any concrete evidence that the journalists had violated any rules. In a show of solidarity, three IFJ affiliates in Indonesia, Hong Kong and the Philippines have joined together to protest this assault on press freedom.

On October 6 four Hong Kong journalists, from Radio Television of Hong Kong (RTHK), Now Television and Commercial Radio, were forced to leave the summit meeting and hand back their press accreditation after they had asked Philippines President Benigno Aquino whether his administration would apologise to the families of victims of the Manila hostage incident three years ago in which eight Hong Kong residents were killed.

After the initial four journalists were forced to leave, four more from Now Television were also forbidden to enter the venue, without any explanation being given.

An RTHK journalist later complained that he has been followed by several plain clothes officers when he left his hotel.

According to an AFP report President Aquino's spokesman, Ricky Carandang, said the journalists had "crossed the line" by aggressively questioning him. Carandang said the questioning caused "potential physical threat to him (Aquino)". Indonesia's communications ministry official in charge of the APEC media centre said: "We deemed it improper for media to act that way, as they didn't talk normally but they were very demonstrative, like they were protesting."

HKJA Chairperson Sham Yee-lan said: "It is a journalist's duty to ask questions of public concern." She said it was unacceptable to bar media personnel for asking critical questions and was an outright infringement of press freedom. The HKJA wrote a letter of complaint to the Chief Executive Officer of the APEC Summit Wishnu Wardhana about the case and demanded that APEC return the press accreditation identity cards immediately.

Eko Maryadi, the president of the Indonesian journalists' union Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI) has expressed disappointment to the APEC meeting's organisers over their decision to cancel the press accreditation of the Hong Kong journalists. Maryadi noted that Indonesian law requires journalists be permitted to carry out their duties without hindrance and the decision to expel the journalists jeopardises press freedom.

AJI has demanded APEC organisers return the press accreditation of the journalists and apologise to them. Maryadi says AJI will also ask Indonesia's Foreign Ministry to investigate the issue. Maryadi has also asked AJI's members in Bali to assist the expelled Hong Kong ensure all of them treated well by Indonesian officials.

Rupert Mangilit, secretary general of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), said the questions put by the Hong Kong journalists to President Aquino are valid. Mangilit said the NUJP has been demanding the Philippine Government issue an update on what it has done to provide justice for the victims of the 2010 hostage crisis in Manila.

"It is every journalist's job to seek truth by asking the right questions, no matter how hard or critical. No institution should bar journalists from doing their jobs," Mangilit said.

The IFJ stresses that journalists have a duty to raise questions and Government officials have a duty to answer them when the questions involve matters of great public concern. Press freedom is a core value in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and no government official should curtail the media's rights on the basis of personal feelings.

"The Indonesian communications ministry made the wrong decision and jeopardised press freedom," said the IFJ Asia-Pacific.

The IFJ urges organisers of the APEC summit to return all the press accreditation identity cards, stop harassing Hong Kong journalists and lift any restrictions on the media.

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