Hong Kong’s Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has hit back at racially-charged online comments targeting a local journalist, saying there was “no room for verbal abuse,” and warning that “racial vilification” constitutes a crime under the Race Discrimination Ordinance.
In a statement published last night, the EOC expressed “grave concern over recent comments on various social media pages attacking the race and skin colour of a female journalist,” and urged online commenters to “follow the principle of mutual respect.”
“It is understandable for people to be distressed by the social unrest over the past few months, but by no means does it justify any sort of discriminatory or vilifying language, which is counter-productive and serves only to escalate tensions,” EOC Chairman Ricky Chu was quoted as saying, before urging “social media operators to fulfil their social responsibility by proactively seeking out ways to root out hate speech online.”
“There is simply no need and no room for verbal abuse,” he added.
Though the EOC did not name the journalist, the case appears to resemble that of RTHK’s Nabela Qoser, who Stand News reports has frequently drawn racially-tinged abuse on pro-Beijing social media pages.
Qoser — who’s become known for her rapid-fire, no-holds-barred questioning of officials over their handling of the city’s protest movement — has been criticized by some pro-Beijing newspapers and commentators as being “rude to government officials,” “arrogant,” and “cocky.”
Online, however, criticism of her work has bled into attacks on her race. (Qoser, who is of Pakistani descent, was born and raised in Hong Kong and speaks fluent Cantonese.) Among the more racially-charged comments were remarks like, “I don’t want to hear the Indian woman’s voice,” “go back to Pakistan,” and “Indian c**t.”
Ugly as they are, the attacks are nothing new for Hong Kong’s South Asian community, which has been subjected to what advocates have called a “vicious cycle of discrimination” for more than century, a cycle reinforced by de facto segregation and unflattering depictions in local media.
The hateful rhetoric continued online last week after Qoser interviewed controversial pro-Beijing firebrand Junius Ho, with some followers of the pro-Ho “Silent Majority” group tinting their criticisms of her hard-nosed style with allusions to her race. Under a YouTube video posted by the group about the interview, one commenter suggested “Indians” go back to “their country,” while another referred to Qoser as a “nasty Pakistani yellow corpse” — “yellow corpse” being a Cantonese pun for “yellow ribbon,” the emblem of the city’s pro-democracy camp.
Qoser first found herself in the pro-Beijing camp’s crosshairs after becoming something of a social media sensation for grilling Chief Executive Carrie Lam and then-Police Chief Stephen Lo over the police’s pitiful response to the Yuen Long station mob attack on July 21, famously demanding in a press conference that Lam “answer like a human being.”
She went viral again after a police press briefing in November, the day it was reported that student Chow Tsz-lok had died of injuries sustained in a fall at a car park during a nearby police dispersal operation in Tseung Kwan O.
During the briefing, Qoser repeatedly asked police if they would admit their operation caused Chow’s death, and whether there was a conflict of interest in having police investigate as-yet unsubstantiated rumors that Chow had been pushed to his death by an officer. When officers at the briefing tried to move on to the next question, other journalists in the room said “she can have mine,” effectively handing the floor back to Qoser.
(The moment was immortalized in cartoon form by the illustrator Cuson Lo.)
The reporter’s confrontational style has prompted some pro-establishmentarians, prone to accusing RTHK of bias as it is, to call for her to be sacked. That view was shared by some 300 people who gathered outside RTHK’s offices over the weekend for a protest blasting the broadcaster for its allegedly “misleading” reporting, Stand News reports.
The rally was organized by Politihk Social Strategic — a pro-Beijing group set up in 2016 to support then-Chief Executive C.Y. Leung — and accused the public broadcaster of having unprofessional reporters and wasting public money, calling on it to fire Qoser and another reporter, Chan Miu-ling, also known for her tough police questioning.