Hong Kong court overturns conviction of journalist Bao Choy

Choy had been accused of making false statements to access vehicle registration records for a documentary. The film covered the 2019 attack on pro-democracy protesters

Journalist Bao Choy (photo: DW)
Journalist Bao Choy (photo: DW)


Hong Kong's top court overturned the conviction of journalist Bao Choy on Monday. She had been accused of making false statements to access vehicle registration records for a documentary covering the 2019 attack on pro-democracy protesters.

Monday's ruling cannot be appealed any further.

The assault, which took place on July 21, 2019 in the northern Yuen Long district, involved over 100 individuals wearing white T-shirts and armed with sticks and poles, resulting in violent clashes with bystanders, journalists, and protesters.

What was the case about?

Choy, who worked for local broadcaster RTHK, had obtained vehicle ownership data from video footage for the documentary titled "7.21 Who Owns the Truth." It had won the Chinese-language documentary award at the Human Rights Press Awards in 2021.

However, in 2021, Choy was fined HK$6,000 ($765 or €715) by a court for making false statements to acquire the vehicle ownership records. Choy had pleaded not guilty.

That ruling had sparked outrage among local journalists over the city's shrinking press freedom.

In its written judgment, the Court of Final Appeal acknowledged a "substantial and grave injustice" done to Choy by wrongly inferring that she knowingly provided false statements.

An important ruling for investigative journalism

Outside the court, Choy emphasized the significance of the ruling for investigative journalism and the constitutional protection of press freedom and freedom of speech.

"Over the last few years, we might have found that many things have disappeared quietly. But I believe our beliefs in our hearts can't be taken away that easily. No matter I win or lose today, the persistence(demonstrated) over the last few years is already a meaningful thing," she said.

During the appeal, Choy's lawyer, Derek Chan, argued that the app only provided three options, and Choy selected "other traffic and transportation matters."

The other available options were "transport-related legal proceedings" or the "sale and purchase of a vehicle." Chan also contended that the prosecution failed to consider media freedom, which is safeguarded under the city's mini-constitution.

In 2021, a lower court convicted Choy, stating in her ruling that "the regulations are not intended to allow the public to obtain vehicle particulars without limitations" and that "interviewing and reporting are not related to traffic and transport purposes."

A five-judge bench at the apex court decided unanimously to overturn the conviction. "There is no reason... that bona fide journalism should be excluded" in the definition of the third choice, they said in a statement.

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