Hong Kong court overturns conviction of journalist Bao Choy

Usman Deen

Global Courant

In a rare victory for journalism amid a crackdown on Hong Kong’s news media, the city’s top court on Monday overturned the conviction of a prominent reporter who had made a documentary critical of the police.

Choy Yuk-ling, also known as Bao Choy, is best known in Hong Kong for producing investigative documentaries about police actions in 2019, as the city was ravaged by months of anti-government protests.

One of the documentaries she produced was an award-winning episode from ‘Hong Kong Connection’, a news program from the city’s public broadcaster RTHK. The episode explored who was behind a mob attack on a group of protesters and commuters in a train station on July 21, 2019, which left 45 people injured, and why police were slow to respond.

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Ms. Choy had used a public database to look up the license plates of vehicles captured on video as they transported the suspected attackers, and traced them to community leaders in the remote villages of Hong Kong. She was arrested in 2020 and found guilty the following year of making false statements to obtain car registration information. A court ordered her to pay a fine of HK$6,000, about $775. She later appealed the conviction.

On Monday, five judges of the Court of Final Appeal voted unanimously to overturn the conviction. They argued that Ms. Choy may not have knowingly made a false statement as many news media companies had made similar requests for information. Convicting Ms Choy on the presumption that she had knowingly violated the law “was a material and serious wrong on her,” the court said in its pronunciation.

In comments to reporters out of court, Ms. Choy said she was pleased with the conclusion of a legal battle that had lasted 30 months.

“Looks like I haven’t felt happy about something in a long time,” she said. “Maybe many people feel the same way. So let’s all enjoy this moment of happiness.”

Francis Lee, a professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the ruling was a hard-fought victory for Ms Choy and an affirmation of journalists’ rights.

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“You could also say that journalists should not be sued for using the vehicle registration primarily for reporting purposes, and the victory came only through Choy’s courage and persistence,” he said.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association said Ms Choy’s efforts had helped “defend the space the industry should have in searching public records. We deeply respect Ms. Choy’s courage in protecting press freedom through her actions.”

Ms Choy’s 2021 sentencing had a chilling effect on news outlets, Ronson Chan, the president of the journalist group, said in an interview. But even with that conviction overturned, Mr Chan notes, the city’s journalists face severe restrictions under a national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020. if their reports are critical of the authorities.

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The broader conditions for independent journalism remain challenging in Hong Kong, with laws criminalizing “incendiary publications”. Some of the city’s most outspoken independent outlets have closed after raids. Editors and writers face long trials over their work.

Ms. Choy co-founded an independent media outlet called The HK Collective in February, pledging to “keep an eye on the rich and powerful”. She was one recipient of the Nieman fellowship at Harvard University in 2022.

“In recent years we will find that many things have disappeared without saying a word, but I believe that inner conviction is very difficult to take away,” she said Monday.

Hong Kong court overturns conviction of journalist Bao Choy

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