Hong Kong’s Department of Justice has been accused of “shameless double standards” over their decision not to prosecute a reporter from a Beijing-owned newspaper just less than two months after another journalist was convicted of an identical crime.

The head of Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA) slammed a decision by the city’s prosecution service to withdraw a charge against Ta Kung Pao reporter Wong Wai-keung under the Road Traffic Ordinance, and instead impose a bind over agreement that required him to be on good behaviour for 12 months or face a HK$2,000 fine.

West Kowloon Law Courts Building
West Kowloon Law Courts Building. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

A binding over order is neither a criminal conviction nor a punishment.

The decision came two months after another reporter Bao Choy was convicted on identical charges and fined HK$6,000 after accessing public vehicle records while investigating allegations of police and triad collusion during the 721 Yuen Long Mob attacks for public broadcaster RTHK.

Referring to the two cases, chair of the HKJA, Chris Yeung said: “It is a clear and shameless case of double standards in prosecution.

“It has given credence to journalists’ fear that Bao was targeted and penalised by the police and the Department of Justice for trying to dig out the truth behind 721. It will damage credibility of police and prosecution and cause embarrassment to the court,” he continued.

Chris Yeung Bao Choy press freedom
Journalist Bao Choy (right) and the chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association Chris Yeung (left). File photo: Studio Incendo.

The “721” mob attacks saw over 100 rod-wielding men indiscriminately attack commuters, protesters and journalists at Yuen Long MTR station on July 21, 2019, leaving 45 injured. The police were criticised for responding slowly to the incident, with some officers seen leaving the scene or interacting with the white-clad men.

The attacks were a watershed incident during the 2019 pro-democracy protests and helped fuel distrust between activists and the force.

Choy is currently appealing her conviction and declined to comment.

‘Admit wrongdoings’

The Department of Justice declined to comment on individual cases on Thursday, but said that bind over orders were not appropriate in every case.

Department of Justice
Department of Justice. Photo: GovHK.

“Generally speaking, under the bind over arrangement, offenders are required to admit the wrongdoings and are admonished in an open court,” it said in response to HKFP’s queries.

“Before agreeing to such a procedure on specified conditions, the prosecution has to give considerations to various factors including attitude of the offender such as remorsefulness,” the department continued.

“If the offender in a case is not willing to accept the bind over arrangement, such an arrangement may not be appropriate.”

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Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.