Hong Kong’s Supreme Court on Monday, June 5, overturned the conviction of a journalist for an investigation into the July 2019 attack on pro-democracy activists by pro-Beijing.
In 2021, a court fined Bao Choy, a freelance journalist, 6,000 HKD (700 euros) after convicting her of “misrepresentation” to obtain, in a public register, the records of ownership of a vehicle as part of an investigation it was carrying out.
The online form for accessing this information provided three options for applicants: “for legal proceedings”, “for the sale and purchase of vehicles” and “for other matters relating to traffic and transport “. Bao Choy had chosen the last option, which in the eyes of the court of first instance and also on appeal did not correspond to a journalistic purpose.
But on Monday, a panel of five Supreme Court justices unanimously decided to overturn the conviction, finding that“there was no reason (…) that bona fide journalism be excluded [dans la définition du troisième choix] ». “‘Other traffic and transport issues’ can be taken in a broader sense to include the serious investigative journalism undertaken here”, the judges said in their decision. They added that this broad interpretation was linked to the “freedom of expression and of the press protected by the Constitution”.
Rare victory for the media
” “Happy.” I can’t think of another word to describe my state of mind right now.”said reporter Bao Choy after the decision. “I think that kind of happiness should be shared by everyone in our society”she added.
The move is a rare victory for media in Hong Kong, where two major independent news outlets have been forced to close since Beijing imposed a national security law in 2020. The journalist had conducted her research as part of a documentary she produced in 2020 for the Hong Kong public channel RTHK.
She was investigating police responsiveness to the July 2019 assault, a key event in the violent pro-democracy protests that year in Hong Kong.
The award-winning documentary claims that on the evening of the attack, the police failed to react to the mass arrival in special vehicles of men armed with batons in the Yuen Long district. Using vehicle ownership records, Bao Choy’s documentary revealed new details about the alleged attackers, some of whom have ties to pro-Beijing and politically influential rural committees.