An award-winning Hong Kong journalist won an appeal on Monday overturning a conviction related to the investigation of an investigative documentary, in a rare court ruling upholding press freedom on Chinese soil.
bao choi was convicted in April 2021 of misleading the government by obtaining vehicle ownership records for journalistic purposes after declaring in her online application that she would use the information for “traffic and transportation matters”.
The investigative journalist was trying to track down the perpetrators of a mob attack on protesters and passengers inside a train station during mass anti-government protests in 2019 for her documentary.
choy was fined HK$6,000 (US$765) on two counts of making false statements at the time and called it “a very dark day for all journalists in Hong Kong”. That ruling also sparked outrage among local journalists over the curtailment of press freedom in the city.
On Monday, the city’s supreme court judges they found unanimously in Choy’s favor in a written judgment, vacating his conviction and vacating the sentence.
“The issues of misrepresentation and knowledge were wrongly decided against appellant because her journalistic investigation of the use of the vehicle on the dates in question fell into the broad general category of ‘other traffic and transportation matters,'” read in the sentence.
Even if it were not, “it was not a compelling inference that she knew that it was false,” the ruling said. There’s no reason “bona fide journalism” should be excluded from the phrase, she added.
Choy told reporters outside court that I was happy to know about the rulingsaying he had declared the importance of the city’s constitutionally protected freedom of the press and speech.
“In recent years, we may have found that a lot of things have quietly disappeared,” he said. “But I believe that our beliefs in our hearts cannot be taken away so easily. It doesn’t matter if I win or lose today, the (demonstrated) persistence over the last few years is already something significant.”
She said she hoped the result was encouraging news for all the hard-working reporters in the city still.
The story Choy co-produced, titled “7.21 Who Owns the Truth,” won the Chinese-language documentary award at the Human Rights Press Awards in 2021. The judging panel hailed him as “a classic of investigative reporting” who had pursued “the smallest leads, interrogating the powerful without fear or favour.”
In the crackdown on dissent that followed the 2019 protests, two vocal news outlets, Apple Daily and Stand News, were forced to shut down and some of their top managers were prosecuted.
He Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai faces collusion charges under a sweeping national security law enacted in 2020. Two former editors of Stand News were indicted under a colonial-era sedition law that has been used increasingly more to stifle critical voices.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997, but critics say Beijing’s promise to uphold the city’s freedoms is becoming increasingly shabby.
Hong Kong was ranked 140th out of 180 countries and territories in the latest Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index released last month. The global media watchdog said the city has experienced an unprecedented setback since 2020, when the security law was introduced.
(with information from AP)
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