The head of Hong Kong’s largest journalists’ group said he feared a privacy breach when he was asked to show his identity card by a plainclothes officer, a court has heard.

Ronson Chan HKJA
Ronson Chan on the first day of the trial on May 16, 2023. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Ronson Chan, who was at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on Thursday for the third day of the trial, stands accused of refusing to show his identification to an officer while reporting on a home owners’ committee meeting for online media outlet Channel C last September.

The veteran journalist, who is the chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, faces one count of obstructing a police officer and an alternative charge of obstructing a public officer.

Chan has pleaded not guilty to both charges. The former is punishable by up to two years in jail, while the latter has a maximum penalty of a HK$1,000 fine and six months’ imprisonment.

Hong Kong Journalists Association HKJA Logo
Hong Kong Journalists Association. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

The court heard that on September 7 last year, Chan refused to show his identity card and acted “emotionally” when approached by a plainclothes officer. Chan asked the officer for her police warrant card, which she quickly showed the journalist. When he asked for her police warrant number, she ignored him.

Appearing before magistrate Leung Ka-kie, Chan said he had arrived at the meeting late and was rushing, Ming Pao reported. He said that he knew he could not refuse an officer’s order to show his identity card, but he was worried that his privacy would be breached.

When asked by the prosecution his grounds for concern, Chan said he had once had his identity card displayed before a live streaming camera.

His response was an apparent reference to an incident during the protests and unrest in 2019, when Chan was covering a demonstration in Tai Po and an officer who asked to see his identity card held it up in front of his camera, which was live streaming to thousands of viewers.

Hong Kong Police
The Hong Kong Police Force emblem outside the police headquarters in Wan Chai. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The prosecution argued that Chan was not streaming at the time, nor was the officer holding any recording equipment. Chan said officers could use their phones.

Reliability of police testimony questioned

During the first day of the hearing on Tuesday, the prosecution summoned the plainclothes officer who had approached Chan.

The officer, surnamed Leung, told the court 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.

West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts
West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Leung said the police had learnt from sources that “residents were encouraged to voice out demands and dissatisfaction during the meeting.”

“I thought it’s possible that he was heading to the stadium and protest,” the police officer said, adding that she had explained to Chan three times why she was searching him.

The defence, however, questioned the accuracy of her statement. They said that Chan had written in her earlier evidence that she had explained only twice.

“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,” defence counsel Charlotte Kong said.

The case was adjourned to July 21 for the defence and prosecution to give their closing statements.

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.