A court in Hong Kong has found Bao Choy, an investigative journalist and freelance producer for Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), guilty of a crime after she used a public database during an investigation into Hong Kong police’s failure to respond to a mob attack on pro-democracy protesters in July 2019.
Choy, also known as Choy Yuk-ling, was arrested in November last year and found guilty on Thursday Apr. 22 of two counts of making false statements while accessing the public vehicle registration database for her investigation into the attack at the train station at Yuen Long.
This is the first time a member of the news media has been prosecuted in Hong Kong for reporting, according to the Washington Post.
The 37-year-old and her RTHK colleagues had been investigating the police’s failure to respond to the attack at the train station when a group of men dressed in white stormed a train station, chasing and beating pro-democracy protesters and passengers with sticks, leaving 45 people injured, including a pregnant woman.
Despite thousands of calls, police didn’t arrive at the scene until 39 minutes after the attack started, when the attackers had already left.
The incident is one of the most consequential of the 2019 Hong Kong protests and undermined public confidence in the police, who have since sought to rewrite the narrative by calling it a clash between “evenly matched rivals, according to the Washington Post.
On Thursday, the court found Choy guilty of violating Hong Kong’s Road Traffic Ordinance, saying that “reporting and newsgathering is not connected to traffic and transport related matters,” as the ordinance stipulates.
The license plate searches had connected cars seen at Yuen Long to people involved in the attack and “revealed links between allegedly attackers and influential pro-Beijing village committees,” the Guardian reported.
Choy was ordered to pay a fine of 6,000 Hong Kong dollars ($774). She originally faced up to a six month prison sentence, but it was commuted considering the awards and the merits of her work.
Choy’s RTHK documentary “7.21 Who Owns The Truth?” had just received the Kam Yiu-yu Press Freedom Award, one of the highest journalistic honors in Hong Kong, on Wednesday Apr. 21.
“Today, the court found me liable for a crime, but I firmly believe searching public records is not an offence, and neither is [upholding] press freedom,” Choy said, according to SCMP.
The verdict has drawn widespread criticism for setting a precedence of a crackdown on press freedom in Hong Kong. International press freedom watchdog Reporters
“Bao Choy was only doing her job and collecting information in the public’s interest and should never have been prosecuted, let alone convicted and fined,” International press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders said.
“The fact that a journalistic investigation could become a punishable offence highlights the extent of the recent decline in press freedom in Hong Kong,” it added.