Hong Kong Journalist Who Exposed Details of Yuen Long Attacks Fined Over Searches

Hong Kong Journalist Who Exposed Details of Yuen Long Attacks Fined Over Searches Hong Kong investigative journalist Bao Choy tears up after she was found guilty of "improper searches" of an online car license database, April 22, 2021.
An investigative journalist arrested and tried after she made a documentary exposing the Hong Kong police force's handling of the July 21, 2019 mob attacks on train passengers in Yuen Long was found guilty of "improper searches" of an online car license database on Thursday.

Journalist Bao Choy, whose documentary 7/21: Who Owns The Truth? tracked the movements of suspected attackers on the night of the attacks, had pleaded not guilty to two counts of "knowingly making a false statement" to access number plate ownership records.

Choy, 37, was fined H.K.$6,000 by the judge at West Kowloon Magistrates' Court, who said the public interest aspect of her work on the film had been taken into account. The charges carry a maximum sentence of six months' imprisonment.

She was visibly distressed, wiping away tears outside the court, before telling reporters outside the court that the verdict was upsetting and heart-breaking.

"This judgement doesn't just affect me as an individual, but the whole industry, and anyone who is a journalist in Hong Kong," Choy said. "I personally don't agree with this verdict."

"Today’s court’s judgement has effectively criminalized the tools that have helped us in the past to find out the truth," she said. 
"I personally believe that no crime was committed carrying out that search, and that a free press shouldn't be criminalized."

She later said via her Twitter account: "I firmly believe registry search is not a crime, journalism is not a crime, uncovering the truth is not a crime."

The European Union Office to Hong Kong and Macao said that Choy's conviction was "a reminder that #PressFreedom cannot be taken for granted and that the law should not be deployed in a way that stifles legitimate journalism."

Choy's sentencing came a day after her program won the prestigious Kam Yiu-yu Press Freedom Award, with the highest scores among 19 nominations.

Press freedom under pressure
The Hong Kong Journalists' Association (HKJA), which made the award, said Choy's film had been aired at a time when there were still public doubts around police complicity in the Yuen Long attacks, which left dozens of people in hospital.

"In times when press freedom is under pressure, journalists should report the facts, make social observations, monitor those in power, and expose injustice, according to the spirit of the profession," it said in a statement on Wednesday, adding that the award-winners had exemplified that spirit.

Choy's film showed that police were present as the attackers gathered in Yuen Long, but delayed their response as men in white T-shirts started attacking train passengers at the MTR station.

Thirty-nine minutes elapsed between the first emergency calls to the final arrival of police at the Yuen Long MTR station, where dozens of people were already injured, and many were in need of hospital treatment, it showed.

It used footage filmed by witnesses and security cameras -- as well as number plate searches and interviews -- to piece together events, uncovering links between some of the attackers and the staunchly pro-China Heung Yee Kuk rural committees.

Choy's program also showed that stick-wielding men had been brought into the district in specific vehicles hours before the attack, and that police had done nothing about the build-up in numbers.

She was arrested after the documentary aired in November 2020, allegedly because her use of the government vehicle database wasn't for the permitted purposes.

Choy's case comes amid ongoing moves to stamp out public dissent and peaceful opposition in Hong Kong, in the wake of huge democracy protests in 2019.

The crackdown began jailing peaceful protesters by using colonial-era sedition and public order laws, until a draconian national security law imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from July 1, 2020 set up a branch of China's feared state security police in the city and criminalized criticism of the government.
The ruling against Choy came two days after the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Hong Kong in 80th place in its 2021 Press Freedom Index, citing "totalitarian control of information" from the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing.

"The national security law that the Chinese government adopted in June 2020, allowing it to intervene directly in Hong Kong in order to arbitrarily punish what it regards as “crimes against the state,” is especially dangerous for journalists," said RSF, which has traced a steady slide in media freedom in Chinese city from 58 in 2013 and 70th in 2018.

Reported by Lau Siu Fung and Lu Xi for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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