Hong Kong police have arrested one of the producers of a TV documentary about the 2019 Yuen Long mob attacks, the show said on Tuesday.

Freelancer Choy Yuk Ling was arrested in the afternoon in connection to the use of car license plate records in an episode of RTHK’s Hong Kong Connection. Police searched her home, the public broadcaster said.

Choi Yuk Ling
Choy Yuk Ling. Photo: investigative.earth.

Another producer involved in the episode confirmed Choy’s arrest to HKFP, but said they had not been contacted by police themselves.

On July 21, 2019, over 100 rod-wielding men stormed Yuen Long MTR station leaving 45 people injured – including journalists, protesters, commuters and pro-democracy lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting. Police were criticised for responding slowly to the incident, with some officers seen leaving the scene or interacting with the white-clad men. The official account of the incident evolved over a year, with the authorities eventually claiming it was a “gang fight.”

YouTube video

The Hong Kong Connection episode titled “7.21 Who Owns the Truth” was aired on July 13, 2020 and received 1.3 million views on YouTube. It analysed and identified individuals suspected to have participated in the attacks based on surveillance footage from the day obtained from nearby businesses.

Using public records obtained by searching vehicle licence plate numbers provided by the Department of Transport, producers visited the homes of several individuals to seek comment from them, some of whom were rural leaders in Yuen Long.

The documentary presented evidence that at least one plain clothes police officer was on the scene as individuals in white shirts started to gather on the streets prior to the attack in the MTR station.

july 19 yuen long tin shui wai connection lam chun ng kin wai
File Photo: Jimmy Lam/United Social Press.

Hong Kong vehicle licence records contain the personal data of vehicle owners, including their name, residential address and Hong Kong ID card number – all of which can be purchased from a government website. To access a “Certificate of Particulars of Motor Vehicle,” a fee must be paid and the purchaser must declare one of three purposes for obtaining the record: transport related proceedings; the sale and purchase of a vehicle; or traffic and transport related matters.

Reporters in Hong Kong routinely use vehicle licence records in their reporting.

Choy is a freelance contract producer of the show and not a permanent employee. She is also a former chairperson of the broadcaster’s staff union.

Pro-democracy lawmakers decried the producer’s arrest and said it was a police attack on press freedom, RTHK reported. Democratic Party legislator Lam Cheuk-ting was one of those injured during the 721 attacks, he was subsequently accused of leading black-clad protesters to instigate fights in the station. He said Choy “asked all the right questions” in the episode of Hong Kong Connection as she investigated people connected to the events that day.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo, who was a TV journalist before becoming a politician, said the arrest was “ridiculous,” as searching car plate records is common practice in Hong Kong newsrooms. She also called the arrest a blatant attack on press freedom.

Press freedom concerns

RTHK has been under fire for months, with pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho suggesting last week that it should be merged with the government PR department. Ho, who was extensively interviewed in the RTHK episode, lodged a complaint against the show saying that it was biased.

Junius Ho
Junius Ho. File Photo: Legislative Council, via Flickr.

In an RTHK board of advisors meeting which addressed his complaint, senior management defended the episode and said it was a textbook instance of good journalism.

The police force has axed its production partnership with the broadcaster and lodged complaints about the content of its satirical show Headliner. The show was axed after an episode jokingly implied that officers hoarded protective supplies during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement posted to Facebook Tuesday, RTHK Programme Staff Union said it was “disappointed” the police had not provided a reason for Choy’s arrest. The union condemned the arrest as causing a chilling effect.

Additional reporting: Tom Grundy.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.