Swiss national Marc Progin, 75, was tried from 9th to 16th September for “aiding and abetting public disorder”, a penal offense that carries up to a year in prison, while he was documenting a violent episode of a demonstration in the Central district of Hong Kong on 14th October 2019. In a video published by Bloomberg, the photographer can be seen unintentionally obstructing the path of a man who was arguing with demonstrators and who moments later was physically assaulted. The verdict is expected on 13th November 2020.
“Marc Progin was only covering the scene as a photographer and evidently had no intention of interfering”, says Cédric Alviani, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia Bureau head, who calls on the Hong Kong Department of Justice “to drop these charges that are clearly abusive and risk setting a precedent that could discourage photojournalists from getting close to the action while documenting demonstrations”.
Progin, a retired businessman turned photographer, has built a reputation for his documentary works on scenes throughout Mongolia and China and extensively covered last year’s pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong. This trial echoes a similar affair in August where two journalists were slammed with charges of rioting for being present during the brief occupation of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council in June 2019.
In a joint statement published in August 2020, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and an NGO coalition expressed concern over the decline of freedoms in Hong Kong, including press freedom, which has accelerated since the passing of the National Security Law on 30th June.
Hong Kong, once a bastion of press freedom, has dropped from 18th place in 2002 to 80th place in 2020 in the RSF World Press Freedom Index. The People's Republic of China, for its part, stagnated at 177th out of 180.