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Politics

Hong Kong reporter found guilty after investigating police conduct

Documentary revealed slow response by officers to mob attack on protesters in 2019

Bao Choy, a reporter formerly affiliated with Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK, appears in front of supporters outside a courthouse on Nov. 10, 2020.   © Reuters

HONG KONG -- An award-winning Hong Kong journalist, whose work detailed the police's delayed response to an organized mob assault on pro-democracy protesters in 2019, was convicted on Thursday of making false statements, intensifying deep concerns over press freedom in the city.

Prosecutors had accused Bao Choy Yuk-ling, a freelance journalist then employed by public broadcaster RTHK, of violating the Road Traffic Ordinance by making two false claims to obtain vehicle license plate information related to suspects of the attack.

Choy previously pleaded not guilty, saying that she had always abided by professional journalistic ethics and "did what should be done." She was fined 6,000 Hong Kong dollars ($775). Both Choy and the prosecutors can appeal the verdict.

The 30-minute documentary, which was broadcast on RTHK, investigated individuals suspected of participating in the mob attack on protesters on July 21, 2019, in the Yuen Long district.

The journalists and producers of the documentary analyzed surveillance footage from nearby businesses and identified people connected to the assault. The report had received 1.5 million views on YouTube as of Thursday.

Sixty-three people subsequently were arrested over the attack, including a number of alleged mobsters. Former opposition lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, who was a victim of the attack, also was arrested on suspicion of rioting. The trials are ongoing.

Thursday's verdict came one day after Choy's investigative documentary, titled "7.21: Who Owns the Truth?" won the Kam Yiu-yu Press Freedom Award. However, RTHK said it had withdrawn entries from award competitions and would not accept any prizes during a "transition period."

RTHK is undergoing an overhaul after local authorities slammed the media outlet in a report released in February for "serious inadequacies" over its editorial management.

To rein in the public broadcaster, the government named Patrick Li Pak-chuen, a longtime civil servant with no journalistic experience, as RTHK's chief, succeeding veteran journalist Leung Ka-wing, who resigned before the end of his contract.

The case against Choy has raised fresh concerns over press freedom in the city and its once-freewheeling local news organizations.

International press freedom watchdog Reporters without Borders this week ranked Hong Kong at 80 out of 180 countries and territories in its 2021 press freedom index, below Togo and Kyrgyzstan. In 2002, the former British colony was in 18th place.

Reporters without Borders -- known by its French acronym RSF -- warned that the city's national security law, which allows Beijing to "intervene directly in Hong Kong in order to arbitrarily punish what it regards as crimes against the state," is especially dangerous for journalists.

Jimmy Lai, the founder of the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily and a recipient of the RSF Press Freedom Award, has been charged under the security law -- which was enacted last year -- and faces a possible life sentence if convicted.

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