Hong Kong’s number two official has banned a journalists’ protest march against the arrest of a documentary producer who had exposed alleged police misconduct. Sunday’s demonstration was initially banned by police, but overturned following appeal.
At a meeting on Friday, the Appeal Board on Public Meetings and Processions accepted the appeal filed by the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), after police had opposed their application citing coronavirus restrictions on public gatherings.
The board said the press group could hold a march on Hong Kong Island only under specific circumstances.
In response to media enquiries, the government said it could not establish whether the march would meet the requirements under the disease prevention ordinance. The authorities cited the Covid-19 pandemic and said it had shown signs of exacerbation locally and internationally: “To safeguard public health, the Department of Health in Hong Kong does not recommend organising any activities involving gathering of large crowds,” the government said in an emailed reply to HKFP.
The appeal board was set to allow the demonstration if participants were limited to HKJA members as well as others working in the media industry, journalism students and teachers. Pre-registration with real names was to be required.
Participants would have been made to wear masks and fill out a health declaration form, while the organisers were to conduct temperature checks and photograph the event to prove social distancing measures.
Local and international press groups have criticised the arrest and prosecution of Choy Yuk-ling as a breach of press freedom. The producer who works for public broadcaster RTHK on a freelance basis is facing two counts of violating the Road Traffic Ordinance by making false statements to obtain vehicle licence records.
The information was used in an investigative report which uncovered more details about the storming of the Yuen Long MTR station by a mob of over 100 rod-wielding men on July 21 last year, that left 45 people including protesters injured. Police were criticised for arriving at the scene late and accused of colluding with the assailants, some of whom had triad connections.
Under existing regulations, anyone who wishes to obtain information from the vehicle registry must pay a fee and declare the purposes of obtaining the record. When purchasing the “Certificate of Particulars of Motor Vehicle,” for instance, the individual can only choose from three purposes: transport-related proceedings; the sale and purchase of a vehicle; or traffic and transport-related matters. The government deleted the option to select “other reasons” in January, according to NowTV.
The HKJA said last week that many reporters – including those who exposed election fraud and government officials who have unauthorised structures in their residences – had relied on records from government registries in their investigations. Checking licence plate information was also a common practice among reporters, the group said.
“This time police have abused the Road Traffic Ordinance to suppress normal reporting behaviour. This will destroy press freedom and create a chilling effect,” the association said.