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HK journalist loses ‘false statement’ appeal

Bao Choy's documentary for RHTK revealed how pro-govt group in Hong Kong attacked democracy supporters in 2019
Hong Kong journalist Bao Choy speaks to the press in 2020. Choy was convicted of making a 'false statement' for a documentary on an attack on democracy supporters in Hong Kong in 2019

Hong Kong journalist Bao Choy speaks to the press in 2020. Choy was convicted of making a 'false statement' for a documentary on an attack on democracy supporters in Hong Kong in 2019. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Published: November 09, 2022 04:15 AM GMT

A journalist in Hong Kong has expressed disappointment after losing an appeal against her conviction for making “false statements” to obtain data for a documentary on attacks against pro-democracy protests by a pro-government group in 2019.

Bao Choy, a journalist and freelance producer, told reporters that the verdict against her would affect how reporters in Hong Kong access information and face obstacles, Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) reported on Nov. 7.

“I believe this defeat will directly affect how [reporters] check for information, and present obstacles to the media industry’s [work of] monitoring authoritative figures in society,” she said.

“The court affirmed that… ‘[journalists] seek information for matters relating to the public interest. But under the current systems, to what extent are we allowed to do that?” Choy said.

"Her statement on the purpose for which she accessed the data was fair and correct"

Choy was earlier convicted on two counts of making false statements to obtain vehicle records for a documentary for public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) in April 2021 and was fined HK$6,000 (US$765).

Choy appealed against her conviction in August wherein she argued that her statement on the purpose for which she accessed the data was fair and correct.

In Hong Kong, an applicant can request vehicle owner data for three purposes: legal matters, vehicle purchase, or other transport or traffic-related matters. Choy had chosen the last option which was later used to build the case against her.

Earlier in November 2020, Choy was arrested for accessing vehicle owners’ data to uncover the details of those who supplied arms to pro-government group members who were engaged in indiscriminate attacks against people at the Yuen Long town and station on July 21, 2019.

Among the 45 injured during the incident were journalists, protesters, commuters and ex-lawmaker, Lam Cheuk-ting.

Using the registration database, Choy linked the vehicles to local village representatives living in the area.

The police are said to have responded late to the emergency calls for support and have been accused of colluding with pro-government groups.

Also known as the "721 Incident," the attack by the pro-democracy group was in the context of the 2019–2020 Hong Kong Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement protests.

"Good intentions are not a reason for defense"

Choy used the data in the RTHK documentary “7.21 Who Owns the Truth?” that was aired in July 2020.

High Court judge Alex Lee in his 34-page verdict said that he “completely agreed” with the magistrate’s earlier ruling that information obtained through the database of vehicle details cannot be “arbitrarily abused.”

“The appellant’s purpose of searching for the information was to investigate and report on the identity of those suspected of assisting in or taking part in the July 21, 2019, attacks,” he said.

Lee also said that he “did not deny” that Choy had sought to access the information “out of good intentions.”

“But… good intentions are not a reason for defense,” he said.

Choy has 28 days to submit her second appeal to the Court of Final Appeal, Hong Kong’s highest court.

"Activists fear that the downward spiral of press freedom will continue"

The documentary on the Yuen Long attacks was released a year after the incident by RTHK to mark the first anniversary of the incident, which was right after the enactment of the sweeping National Security Law.

Activists and press organizations have voiced their concerns since the enactment of the law, which has been used to muzzle dissent, suppress pro-democracy movements and to forcibly shut popular media outlets such as the Apple Daily and Stand News.

Earlier in October, Jimmy Lai, founder of the now-defunct Apple Daily was found guilty of two fraud charges.

Apart from Lai, Cardinal Joseph Zen, 90, former bishop of Hong Kong and one of Asia’s most senior Catholic clerics as well as hundreds of pro-democracy politicians, activists and supporters are facing trial in Hong Kong for their support for democracy and freedom in Hong Kong.

While pro-Beijing media are protected, any voice of dissent is suppressed and activists fear that the downward spiral of press freedom will continue in the city.

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