Reuters Pulitzer team captures Hong Kong’s descent into chaos

Reuters Pulitzer team captures Hong Kong’s descent into chaos

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The young woman is pressed to the ground next to a riot police shield. Detained by Hong Kong authorities, she screams her name out to friends so they can call a lawyer to help.

The picture, taken on Sept. 2 last year in the midst of huge and violent protests that rocked Hong Kong for more than six months, was part of a series of images by a team of Reuters photographers that won a Pulitzer Prize this week for breaking news photography.

. Hong Kong, China. Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha
Hundreds of anti-government protesters gather after climbing to the peak of Lion Rock as a lighted sign is held high in the air.

The photographs range from sweeping bird's eye views of boulevards packed with tens of thousands of demonstrators to close-ups of pitched battles between anti-China protesters and police seeking to restore order.

Most of the violence took place at night, lending an eerie aura to the action - protesters stood out as silhouettes against teargas smoke; giant neon letters reading "FREE HK" and carried aloft by protesters glowed in the gloom from a hilltop.

. Hong Kong, China. Reuters/Tyrone Siu
An anti-government protester, who later identified himself as a university student, is chased by riot policemen after skirmishes at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

For Tyrone Siu, a Reuters photographer who is from Hong Kong, covering the story was intensely personal.

A graduate of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, scene of some of the fiercest clashes between police and protesters, he saw his alma mater turned into a battleground. The city sports stadium became a giant shelter for injured protesters.

"At the same time, I must remain calm amid the intense atmosphere in order to carry out my duty as a photojournalist, helping foreign colleagues to get about and handling the fast-changing situation," he recalled.

Siu took the picture of the shouting woman and, despite spending months on the streets of a city that resembled a war zone at times, it sticks in his memory.

"The emotions shown on her face were so strong and striking that it left a lasting memory," he said.

"But it was only one day of many days, one face of many young faces being detained by the police in this manner throughout the months-long protest."

. Hong Kong, China. Reuters/Thomas Peter
Police fire tear gas and rubber bullets at anti-extradition bill protesters during clashes in the Sham Shui Po district.

The Pulitzer Prize for Reuters, a unit of Thomson Reuters was the newsroom's eighth since 2008, and fifth in the last three years. Reuters coverage of the Hong Kong uprising was also a Pulitzer finalist in the international reporting category.

Many of the winning photographs depicted violent clashes between Hong Kong protesters and authorities, including images taken in the midst of skirmishes with tear gas, rubber bullets and hurled bricks.

. Hong Kong, China. Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha
Protesters march through the streets of Hong Kong demanding for it's leaders to step down and withdraw the proposed extradition bill.

Ahmad Masood, Asia Editor for Reuters Pictures who oversaw the coverage, said he and others began to prioritise the Hong Kong story in June, when big rallies were announced.

As mass protests turned violent and time passed, the protest movement began to fracture, making it harder to plan.

. Hong Kong, China. Reuters/Tyrone Siu
A man sprays paint over the Regional Emblem of Hong Kong after anti-extradition bill protesters stormed the Legislative Council Complex on the 22nd anniversary of the handover from British to Chinese rule, destroying pictures and daubing walls with graffiti.

"This is where Tyrone's local knowledge and network of contacts kept the team informed of what the next development was likely to be," said Masood.

"There was a lot of chasing around. Sometimes there were four photographers at different spots across the city with some serious clashes going on during daylight and night."

. Hong Kong, China. Reuters/Anushree Fadnavis
Passengers push their luggage past bricks and barriers after anti-government protesters blocked the roads leading to Hong Kong International Airport.

In some pictures, civilians are caught up in the chaos - passengers outside an airport running with their luggage or a man crouching as he leaves an optician store, the flames of a molotov cocktail licking the street in front of him.

In others, police clash with demonstrators, many of them students wearing gas masks and helmets.

. Hong Kong, China. Reuters/Thomas Peter
The bloodied man, who suffered major facial and head trauma, was reported to have survived his injuries by local media.

There are moments of brutality. A photograph taken by Thomas Peter shows a masked anti-government protester attacking a man who is suspected of being a pro-Beijing activist with a hammer. Blood pours from the victim's head.

. Hong Kong, China. Reuters/Jorge Silva
A pro-China demonstrator films herself as an anti-government protester holds up a sign on her phone during skirmishes between the two opposing groups at Yuen Long station. The words on the phone read, "Seek an official reassessment of the June 4 crackdown," referring to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

Jorge Silva photographed a woman with fury etched on her face as she held a Chinese flag in support of Beijing and shouted into her smartphone, while anti-China protesters crowded around her.

. Hong Kong, China. Reuters/Tyrone Siu
Anti-government protesters stand in a cloud of tear gas unleashed during a stand off with riot police at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Rickey Rogers, Global Editor for Reuters Pictures, said the prize was a testament to the teamwork that went into covering a protracted and often dangerous story.

"Eleven photographers have their names inscribed in journalistic history, but there were 28 Reuters photographers who rotated through Hong Kong during 2019, plus security and legal advisers, and a team of editors.

"All of them were critical in what truly matters beyond any prize – telling the news story to the world."

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Slideshow

Anti-government protesters are detained during skirmishes between the police and protesters in Admiralty district.
. Hong Kong, China. Reuters/Susana Vera

Anti-government protesters are detained during skirmishes between the police and protesters in Admiralty district.

Anti-extradition bill protesters use slingshots to hurl bricks as they clash with riot police during a demonstration to demand democracy and political reforms, in the market town of Tsuen Wan.
. Hong Kong, China. Reuters/Tyrone Siu

Anti-extradition bill protesters use slingshots to hurl bricks as they clash with riot police during a demonstration to demand democracy and political reforms, in the market town of Tsuen Wan.

Demonstrators protesting the proposed extradition bill aim their flashlights towards riot police as they are chased through the streets.
. Hong Kong, China. Reuters/Willy Kurniawan

Demonstrators protesting the proposed extradition bill aim their flashlights towards riot police as they are chased through the streets.

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam pauses while holding a news conference. The following week, on September 4, Lam announced the formal withdrawal of the extradition bill.
. Hong Kong, China. Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam pauses while holding a news conference. The following week, on September 4, Lam announced the formal withdrawal of the extradition bill.

A woman looks out from the window of a residence as tens of thousands of demonstrators march through Hong Kong demanding autonomy and for its leaders to step down weeks after the formal withdrawal of an extradition bill.
. Hong Kong, China. Reuters/Ammar Awad

A woman looks out from the window of a residence as tens of thousands of demonstrators march through Hong Kong demanding autonomy and for its leaders to step down weeks after the formal withdrawal of an extradition bill.

A restaurant worker receives help from volunteers as patrons cover their faces after riot police fired tear gas nearby to disperse anti-government protesters taking part in a march billed as a global "emergency call" for autonomy.
. Hong Kong, China. Reuters/Tyrone Siu

A restaurant worker receives help from volunteers as patrons cover their faces after riot police fired tear gas nearby to disperse anti-government protesters taking part in a march billed as a global "emergency call" for autonomy.

Customers cautiously exit an eyeglass store past a burning molotov cocktail as demonstrators clash with riot policemen  during a march billed as a global "emergency call" for autonomy.
. Hong Kong, China. Reuters/Tyrone Siu

Customers cautiously exit an eyeglass store past a burning molotov cocktail as demonstrators clash with riot policemen during a march billed as a global "emergency call" for autonomy.

Mall security personnel urges caution as he tries to extinguish a burning Christmas tree at the Festival Walk mall in Kowloon Tong. The property suffered damage after anti-government protesters stormed the shopping centre.
. Hong Kong, China. Reuters/Thomas Peter

Mall security personnel urges caution as he tries to extinguish a burning Christmas tree at the Festival Walk mall in Kowloon Tong. The property suffered damage after anti-government protesters stormed the shopping centre.

A man clears debris following the clashes between police and anti-government protester after a two week campus siege of the Polytechnic University.
. Hong Kong, China. Reuters/Adnan Abidi

A man clears debris following the clashes between police and anti-government protester after a two week campus siege of the Polytechnic University.

A child sits in a carrier wearing a mask as anti-government protesters hold hands to form a human chain in a sign of solidarity in Kowloon Bay.
. Hong Kong, China. Reuters/Leah Millis

A child sits in a carrier wearing a mask as anti-government protesters hold hands to form a human chain in a sign of solidarity in Kowloon Bay.