Victoria Police are investigating an incident in which two members of the media, including an Age photographer, were pepper-sprayed and another was knocked over by police during anti-lockdown protests on Saturday.
Photographer Luis Ascui was sprayed directly in the eyes while photographing the rally on Saturday afternoon despite identifying himself as a media representative.
Age photographer Luis Ascui is pepper sprayed by a Victoria Police officer during the anti-lockdown protest in Richmond.Credit:Jason Edwards/Herald Sun
Around 700 demonstrators had marched from Bridge Road in Richmond to a gorge on Barkers Road in Hawthorn on Saturday as part of the rally. But few protesters were left in the area when a contingent of police moved through and members of the media were accosted.
Footage from the incident shows a police officer rushing and knocking into a photographer who was filming the incident as he repeatedly yelled “media”.
A different police officer was seen in vision spraying Mr Ascui while he tried to move backwards. A female protester was sprayed in the face as she lay on the ground and another member of the media was also targeted with the foam.
“Some protesters were still marching, and the police started running for the people, so I was photographing that,” Ascui said.
Luis Ascui washes his eyes out with water from a garden house after being capsicum sprayed on Saturday. Credit:Jason Edwards/Herald Sun
“Most of the protesters rushed off, then one of the police turned towards me and started spraying me right in the face … directly into my eyes.”
Ascui was carrying three cameras, wearing media accreditation around his neck and had identified himself to police before he was sprayed. Nearby, a cameraman was knocked to the ground by officers and left bleeding from his arm.
Ascui said that this was not the first incident of this kind he’d faced in his career, but “everyone should have the right to go to work and feel safe”.
“I said to the police: ‘You want a safe environment for yourself, you don’t want to feel unsafe when you go to work … so what is point to getting police media accreditation if you’re going to treat me with contempt’?” Ascui said.
“Things are going to happen when you’re at a protest as a photographer; we may get hurt because we’re in the middle of it. This kind of thing has happened before, but never so bluntly directed at me as a working photographer.”
Other members of the Melbourne media helped Ascui get to the front yard of a nearby house, where the residents allowed him to wash his eyes out with a hose. It took more than two hours before his vision improved enough for him to drive home.
Rob Peatling, a security guard hired by The Age to assist its staff, witnessed the incident and said Ascui was “face to face with the police marching forward”.
“As he was taking a photo, one police officer stepped straight up to him and covered him with capsicum spray right into Luis’s face. He was covered and completely blinded,” the security guard said.
A spokesman for Victoria Police said they were aware of the incident and the matter had been referred to the Professional Standards Command for investigation.
“We acknowledge the media plays an important role in covering events of significant public interest,” police said in the statement.
“Yesterday was a highly dynamic and hostile situation and at times it can be difficult to distinguish between protesters and media representatives.”
The Age editor Gay Alcorn said a formal complaint to Victoria Police would be lodged.
“We are extremely concerned that our photographer was directly capsicum sprayed despite clear evidence that he identified himself as media and was carrying several cameras,” she said.
“We understand the police have a tough job at protests, but so do journalists and photographers who must be allowed to witness and report on major news events.
“We know there is risk involved in that, but we do not expect that risk to come from police. We intend on making a formal complaint and ask that it be investigated thoroughly.”
Police Association boss Wayne Gatt said journalists and photographers do “an essential job”, but said reporters being injured by police resulted from the volatile nature of the situation.
“It’s really unfortunate when that happens, but it sometimes becomes an absolute unavoidable consequence …. just the sheer panic of the situation, the unpredictability in those scenes is sometimes really hard to control,” he said on Sunday morning.
The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.
Most Viewed in National
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article