Hong Kong journalist Bao Choy has filed an appeal against a magistrate’s decision to convict her after she accessed public records to investigate police behaviour during the “7.21” mob attack on Yuen Long MTR station – one of the most controversial incidents of the 2019 protests.
Her conviction last month for submitting “misleading information” to get access to the owner data of particular car number plates raised alarm bells over the prospects for journalists in the city. The conviction was condemned by the city’s press club and rights groups as an affront to press freedom, since the press often uses such data in the course of regular reporting.
The freelance TV producer announced her decision to appeal in a statement on social media on Wednesday. “Today I appointed a lawyer to appeal the ‘7.21 record search case,” a Facebook post read.
She said the decision was not an easy one, but she felt it was necessary to safeguard what she describes as the rapidly shrinking space for free speech.
“I have struggled with whether I should be more selfish and let the case and myself go,” she wrote. “But, after much reflection, I know that if I give up the pursuit of justice now, I will lose sleep and regret it for the rest of my life.”
On April 22, Choy was convicted of two violations of the Road Traffic Ordinance and fined HK$6,000 after she accessed public car registration records to investigate police behaviour during the Yuen Long mob attacks for public broadcaster RTHK. The magistrate found the journalist had “knowingly submitted misleading information” on the form requesting access to the database.
Her documentary programme on the attacks had won a human rights press prize a day prior to her conviction, but RTHK had declined to accept it.
“I have no reason to be optimistic. In this drastically changing political climate… more and more voices are being extinguished, it seems Hongkongers are getting used to not being able to speak up,” the journalist wrote.
She added that she was prepared for the case to go to the Court of Final Appeal. “As someone of the media, I have always been committed to reporting the facts and to always speak the truth.”
The reporter has voiced serious concerns over the state of Hong Kong’s press freedom following her conviction, referring to talk of “fake news” legislation and increasing pressure on the city’s public broadcaster.
Choy also called on other journalists to continue championing press freedom in Hong Kong: “#We mustn’t give up so easily. #We’re in this together.”
On World Press Freedom Day on Monday, RTHK began to remove content over a year old from its social media platforms and fired a reporter known for her hard-hitting questioning of officials during the 2019 protests.
“This is wrong,” she tweeted after the broadcaster began scrubbing its archives. “Making producers delete their work so that the public can’t have access to information is wrong. Deleting history so that there’s no record of things is wrong. Information is good for society, transparency is good for the society, record keeping is good for society,”
Choy’s decision to dispute her conviction come amid growing fears press freedoms are eroding in Hong Kong under Beijing’s sweeping national security law imposed last June. An international rights group has warned of “unprecedented pressure” on the city’s reporters while the perception of press freedom among local journalists and the public is at a record low.