BALI, Indonesia (AP) — A journalist association is protesting the treatment of Hong Kong reporters covering a regional economic summit in Indonesia, saying they were treated like a serious security threat by the organizers who barred them from the event after they shouted questions at Philippine President Benigno Aquino III.
The journalists from Now TV, Radio Television Hong Kong and Commercial Radio asked Aquino at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bali if he would apologize to the families of victims killed three years ago while vacationing in Manila.
Their questions were “placed on the same level as explosives and other fatal vice by both the Indonesian and Filipino authorities,” the Hong Kong Journalists Association said in a statement on its website.
The reporters were banned from the event on Sunday. The association said they were placed under surveillance and stopped from entering their hotels a day later.
“This development borders on the absolutely ludicrous and the so-called security threat concern is totally unacceptable,” it said. Another group, the Hong Kong News Executives’ Association, said they were shocked by APEC’s actions and had complained to the organizers about lack of respect for press freedom.
Col. Bernardus Robert, spokesman of the APEC Joint Security Command, declined to provide details about the journalists but said there was a zero tolerance policy for any threats.
“We will not tolerate any possibility, even small, of threats against the heads of state and the implementation of APEC Summit should not be disturbed,” he said. APEC organizers, in a separate statement, said “this is not about press freedom.”
The journalists approached Aquino on the sidelines of the meeting.
“Will you apologize to Hong Kong people for their real tragedy?” a woman reporter asked, TV footage showed. “Will you give an answer? It has been three years,” she said.
Aquino did not reply to the questions. Now TV footage showed an APEC staff member telling the reporters: “You ambushed one of our visitors.”
In 2010, eight Hong Kong tourists and their guide were killed after being held hostage for a day inside a tour bus by a dismissed Manila police officer. The crisis ended with a botched police rescue.
Aquino has expressed regret over the bloodshed but repeatedly said he considers the issue closed. However, families of the victims have continued to press for an official apology and compensation.
Aquino met with Leung Chun-ying at the Hong Kong leader’s request on Monday.
“We explained, so we can understand each other a bit, in our culture, when we apologize, then it admits that we’re at fault as a country, as a government, and as a people,” he told Filipino journalists in Bali. “And we pointed out that from our perspective there was one lone gunman responsible for this tragedy.”
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China supported the Hong Kong government’s efforts to remain in close contact with the Philippines about the hostage incident.
“We urge the Philippine government to pay high attention to the requirements and concerns of the families of the victims, take concrete and effective measures and work out a proper solution as soon as possible,” Hua said in a statement released late Monday.
Gatot S. Dewabroto, a member of Indonesia’s APEC Organizing Committee, said the credentials of nine Hong Kong journalists were revoked for behavior that was “excessive, disrespectful and disturbing the event.”
He said the decision was not made at the request of the Philippines.
Edwin Lacierda, Aquino’s spokesman in Manila, said the APEC organizers took “appropriate measures.”
Leaders of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum along with thousands of business leaders, officials and journalists are meeting amid tight security on this tropical island in eastern Indonesia for an annual summit.
Associated Press writers Margie Mason in Bali, Gillian Wong in Beijing and Hrvoje Hranjski in Manila, Philippines contributed to this report.