Security officers at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts barred at least two reporters from attending a trial hearing on Wednesday. The action was taken to protect the identity of a police officer who had provided a witness statement anonymously.

Two reporters from Stand News and Apple Daily – who were given tickets to attend a trial hearing – were barred by judiciary security guards from entering the courtroom, the outlets reported.

File photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

It is unclear if the arrangement was ordered by the magistrate presiding over the case. The guards claimed the measure was to protect police officer “A” – a witness.

The hearing involved Tin District Councillor Wong Hok-lai who allegedly obstructed a police officer in August 2019, at a Sham Shui Po protest against the arrest of student protester Keith Fong.

Officer “A” was granted permission by the court to give their statement anonymously behind a screen, but they were unable to cover the officer’s face completely. Seven seats in the audience were allocated to reporters with tickets given out prior to the hearing, but only four of them – who had arrived earlier – were allowed in.

West Kowloon Law Courts Building. File Photo: Wikicommons.

Reporters then enquired with a senior information officer from the judiciary, who defended the security guards’ actions and rejected requests to attend the hearing whilst standing in the courtroom. The reporters were allowed to enter at around noon, under the condition that they remained standing in in court, after the prosecution finished their examination of the witness.

“The additional restriction on the number of reporters at the court hearing today on the ground[s] of protecting the identity of a police witness is absurd and unjustifiable given the witness has already been shielded behind a screen.  It raises concerns that it is a further step towards more restrictions on reporting of court hearings,” a Hong Kong Journalists Association spokesperson said in a statement in response to HKFP. “The Judiciary owes the media an explanation on whether reporters are being discriminated against and, if so, for what reasons.” The Association was not aware of similar incidents in the past.

File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The spokesperson further stated that the open justice principle underpinning common law trial procedures require proceedings to be open and accessible to the public and to the media. “Any restrictions on the right of journalists to conduct reporting in court hearings must be justifiable, but not arbitrarily imposed with bias towards the media.”

Selina Cheng

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.