An award-winning Hong Kong reporter was found guilty on Thursday of incorrectly browsing a public automobile licence database to help track down the perpetrators of an attack on democracy fans by government patriots.
The conviction of Bao Choy, a producer with public broadcaster RTHK, comes at a time of deepening issues over press flexibilities in the worldwide service hub as Beijing stamps out dissent in the wake of big democracy protests.
Choy, 37, was condemned on 2 counts of “knowingly making a false statement” to access number plate ownership records.
” Members of the public do not have an outright right to acquire any file under this ordinance,” principal magistrate Ivy Chui stated.
She faced up to 6 months in jail but was eventually fined HK$ 6,000 ($ 770).
Coworkers and members of RTHK’s worker union gathered outside the court holding banners that check out “Journalism is not a crime” and “Who wants the public kept in the dark?”
” Though I was found guilty I still believe journalism is not a criminal activity and browsing computer system registries is not a criminal offense,” Choy informed press reporters.
The database searches were made for an RTHK documentary last year called “Who Owns The Fact?” that examined an attack on pro-democracy protesters by a gang of men armed with clubs and sticks.
The authorities’s failure to react rapidly enough to the July 2019 attack was a turning point in the substantial and frequently violent pro-democracy protests that year, more hammering public rely on the force.
RTHK utilized video from witnesses and security video cameras– in addition to number plate searches and interviews– to piece together events.
It revealed brand-new details about the supposed assaulters, a few of whom have links to politically-influential rural committees that support Beijing.
It also stated that police failed to respond to the build up of stick-wielding males ferried into the district by specific lorries that night hours prior to the attack.
Hong Kong keeps a publicly-accessible licence plate database long utilized by journalists, including pro-Beijing news outlets.
But authorities introduced a guideline change that meant journalists were no longer allowed to make searches.
Bao Choy’s case has deepened media liberty fears as Beijing has actually relocated to mark out dissent in Hong Kong AFP/ Anthony WALLACE
Throughout her searches, Choy ticked a reason box that stated “traffic and transportation associated matters”.
But Judge Chui ruled media reporting was not covered.
Choy’s legal representatives argued her searches served the general public interest and assisted Hong Kongers “get closer to the fact”.
” Today is a dark day for Hong Kong journalists,” Chris Yeung, head of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, stated on Thursday.
Authoritarian China heavily censors the media.
But semi-autonomous Hong Kong remains a regional press center with a vibrant regional scene and numerous global outlets hosting local headquarters.
However the city has moved down media freedom rankings in recent years.
Press Reporters Without Borders (RSF) now ranks Hong Kong as 80th in its annual global media flexibility list, below 18th in 2002.
Beijing has actually cracked down on opponents following 2019’s protests, enforcing a sweeping nationwide security law and unveiling strategies to make sure just “staunch patriots” run Hong Kong.
On Tuesday RSF cautioned China’s “censorship infection” had spread to Hong Kong, adding that the security law was a “severe threat” to reporters.
The exact same day the city’s police chief required a “fake news law” to “help national security”.
Hong Kong’s federal government dismissed RSF’s report as “terrible”.
Beijing has made no secret of its desire to see Hong Kong’s vital media tamed and RTHK has significantly discovered itself a government target.
Designed on Britain’s BBC, it is openly moneyed and was editorially independent of Hong Kong’s federal government.
Hong Kong’s federal government has actually purchased an overhaul of the broadcaster, including the recent appointment of a career civil servant as its brand-new head.
He has pledged to veterinarian all programs and has actually pulled numerous shows, often simply days or hours before they were due to air.