The defence questioned whether an exchange between the head of Hong Kong’s largest journalists’ group Ronson Chan and a plainclothes police officer could have happened as described, as the trial against Chan began on Tuesday.
Chan, who chairs the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), appeared at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court to face charges relating to an incident last year when he allegedly refused to show his identification to a police officer.
The veteran journalist faces one count of obstructing a police officer and an alternative charge of obstructing a public officer after being arrested on September 7 last year while reporting on a home’s owner committee meeting for Channel C.
Chan has pleaded not guilty to both charges.
One of the prosecution witnesses, a plainclothes police officer surnamed Leung who attempted to search the journalist last September, told the court on Tuesday that Chan had “acted emotional,” “yelled loudly” and “refused to comply” with demands to show his identity card.
“He was agitated and kept asking me repeatedly: ‘why are you searching me? Which police station are you belong to?’” Leung said, adding that she had answered Chan’s questions three times.
Leung was patrolling in Mong Kok, where a home’s owner committee meeting was being held at the MacPherson Stadium, she said.
Leung said the police had learnt from sources that “residents were encouraged to voice out demands and dissatisfaction during the meeting.” The police officer considered Chan and his colleague as “suspicious.”
“I thought it’s possible that he was heading to the stadium and protest,” the police officer said.
After telling Chan her position and showing her warrant card three times, Leung said she warned him that he would be charged with obstructing a police officer if he continued to refuse to show his HKID card.
Chan took out an opaque silver card cover, and began waving it about without taking his HKID card out of the cover, Leung said. A sergeant who joined the scene later told other police officers to arrest Chan.
In response to Leung’s testimony, defence counsel Charlotte Kong said the actual time Leung spent talking to Chan was only 15 seconds, according to CCTV footage that was played in court.
The barrister then asked her team to time how long it would take to say what Leung had told the court she had said.
“I was only repeating what you claimed to have said when you showed him your warrant card for the first time, and the time needed is already 24 seconds, “ Kong said. “It would be impossible to finish the exchange that you claimed to have with the defendant in just 15 seconds.”
The witness disagreed, saying that her and Chan spoke over each other. “I was speaking very fast, too,” she said.
“You are making up a story. The truth is it all happened in a split-second, and you cannot recall what was being said during the interaction,” Kong said, suggesting that Chan did not hear the answer from the plainclothes police, and was eager to verify her identity.
“You knew he was about to take his HKID card out of the silver cover,” Kong added. The police witness disagreed.
The trial will continue on Wednesday, and five police witnesses will give testimony in court in total.
The trial was postponed until May as Chan pursued a six-month fellowship at Oxford University last year. He was granted bail without travel restrictions.
The current chairperson of HKJA told reporters outside the court on Tuesday that he was interested in throwing his hat in the ring for the third term as the press group’s chairperson.
“I’ll have to listen to my family’s opinion first… I will try to convince [my wife] if she opposes my decision,” Chan said, adding that she worried about his safety.
The nomination period for the next HKJA executive committee closed on Tuesday.
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.
Correction 19/5/23: An earlier version of the article stated that Chan’s alternative charge was obstructing a police officer. The alternative charge was obstructing a public officer. We regret the error.
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