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An award-winning Hong Kong journalist appeared in court Tuesday, on charges related to her role in helping to investigate alleged police mishandling of a violent mob attack on democracy supporters in 2019.
The case has intensified concerns over shrinking press freedoms in the semi-autonomous Chinese city, as authorities continue to crackdown on prominent figures linked to last year’s anti-government protest movement.
Bao Choy, an employee of the public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), was arrested last week in connection with data on vehicle registrations she used for an investigative documentary.
The piece examined the July 21 mob attack at Yuen Long subway station last year, which saw dozens of suspected gang members violently attack pro-democracy supporters.
Footage of the attack posted on social media showed masked men, wearing white T-shirts and armed with batons and metal rods, blindly attacking unarmed crowds on the platform and inside train carriages in the far northwest of Hong Kong.
At the time of the Yuen Long incident, Hong Kong police were widely criticized for their slow response, and protesters accused law enforcement officials of working with the gangs — a charge the police repeatedly denied.
At Fanling Magistrates Court on Tuesday, Choy, 37, was charged with two counts of making false statements under the Road Traffic Ordinance, over her attempts to obtain publicly available drivers information as part of the investigation.
During the course of the RTHK investigation, reporters sifted through CCTV footage from the night of the attack and identified several vehicles parked close to the suspected gang members. Using a registration database they then obtained information about the owners of those vehicles and contacted them for comment.
According to a charge sheet, Bao made false statements when seeking access to the data.
Speaking outside the court Tuesday, Choy told reporters that “many scholars, unions and lawyers are concerned whether the police are using the law to suppress press freedom in Hong Kong.”
The case comes as Hong Kong pro-democracy opposition legislators raise concerns that Beijing is cracking down on genuine political opposition in the city, following the imposition of a new national security law on June 30.
The wide-reaching law, which was imposed on Hong Kong without public consultation, criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign powers, and many fear it is being used to override existing legal processes and erode the city’s civil and political freedoms.
On Monday, pro-democracy lawmakers threatened to resign en masse over reports that Beijing could seek to have them removed. RTHK reported that Beijing could unseat at least four lawmakers in the coming days for violating Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, by filibustering meetings.
China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress, is scheduled to hold a standing committee meeting this week, but it has not made any announcements concerning the report on its official website.
“We’d like to make use of the mass resignation to reflect our unity, and on the other hand, protest against the tyranny of the central government and the (Hong Kong) government,” said Wu Chi-wai, chairman of the Democratic Party, the largest pro-democracy party in Hong Kong’s legislature.
Dennis Kwok, a pro-democracy lawmaker reported to be among those marked for disqualification according to RTHK, said if the news turns out to be true, it will show that Beijing could no longer “tolerate opposition” in Hong Kong and that it will be a “serious departure from the original spirit of One Country, Two Systems” — the framework that allows Hong Kong greater autonomy from the mainland.
In July, 12 pro-democracy candidates, including Kwok, were barred from standing in now-postponed legislative elections on the grounds that they would not uphold the Basic Law.