Ronson Chan, the chairperson of the city’s largest journalist group the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), has been granted bail after pleading not guilty to obstructing police officers and an alternative charge of obstructing other person lawfully engaged in a public duty. He will be able to travel to the UK next Thursday to take up a six-month fellowship at Oxford University.
Chan appeared in front of Peter Law at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on Thursday, a week before his scheduled departure to the UK.
Chan was arrested on September 7 while reporting on a home owners’ committee meeting for online outlet Channel C.
The police said he was among two “suspicious” men seen by officers and that Chan had refused to comply with officers’ requests to present his identification despite multiple warnings.
Law granted Chan bail without confiscating his passport or imposing any travel restrictions. Chan had to submit a HK$10,000 cash bail and report his future UK address and mobile number to the police in Hong Kong.
The trial is scheduled to begin on May 16, 2023, nearly a month after Chan is set to finish the fellowship program and return Hong Kong.
Chan, who wore a T-shirt with the Chinese characters for “Press Freedom” printed on it, called the ruling “unexpected,” and said he thought it was a difficult decision for the court.
He said he would not associate the case with the repression of press freedom in Hong Kong, as he had not gotten a chance to tell the officers at the scene that he was a journalist. However, he did mention a media event attended by Chief Executive John Lee at the Grand Hyatt that also occurred on Thursday.
“Today, at this very moment, some journalists are holding a reception celebrating the National Day, while the chairperson of Hong Kong Journalist Association had to appear in court. I guess that reflects the contrast we’ve seen in the news industry in Hong Kong now,” the veteran journalist said.
Rasmus Nielsen, director of the Reuters Institute, published a statement on Twitter after the court’s decision. “We are looking forward to welcoming Ronson Chan to Oxford in October as part of the Reuters Institute’s Journalist Fellowship. He is a distinguished and experienced journalist with much to share, and everyone here is looking forward to hosting him,” the statement read.
Since the 2019 protests and unrest and the enactment of the security law in June 2020, civil society groups, including the HKJA, have faced pressure from the authorities as well as criticism from state-backed media.
Chan started his second term as chairperson of the HKJA in June, after announcing that he would leave the city for six months to join the Reuters Institute’s fellowship programme at Oxford University in late September.
He was previously questioned by police in connection with an investigation into his former employer, Stand News.
Stand News was forced to cease operations last December after its newsroom was raided by police officers from the National Security Department and seven people linked to the outlet were arrested. The non-profit online news source was founded in December 2014 and had a pro-democracy slant.
Like his predecessor Carrie Lam, Chief Executive John Lee has said that freedom of the press in Hong Kong was not at risk.
Lee was the city’s security chief when Beijing imposed the sweeping national security legislation on Hong Kong two years ago. Since the onset of the law, newsrooms have been raided and several outlets have shut down, some after their top editors were arrested over national security or sedition charges.
In the run up to the leadership race in which he ran uncontested, Lee had said press freedom existed in the city and there was no need to ask him to “defend” it.
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