Bao Choy won awards for her research. Now she has been convicted of her work

In a case seen as yet another blow to press freedoms in the city, Bao Choy was found guilty on Thursday at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court in Hong Kong for violating the city’s traffic regulations and fined 6,000 Hong Kong dollars ($ 770). The charge carried a possible six-month jail term.

Prosecutors said the freelance journalist violated the ordinance because she searched the vehicle registration database while producing the documentary “Hong Kong Connection: 7.21 Who Owns the Truth?” for the public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK).

Prosecutors said the ordinance should only be used for “transportation-related matters” – and not while reporting.

Magistrate Ivy Chui agreed, saying Choy’s use of the database was inconsistent with what vehicle owners expected when they provided their data to the transportation department. She said the government should not provide personal information about vehicle owners to users who do not use the information for what is permitted.

“Reporting and news gathering have nothing to do with traffic and transportation-related matters,” Chui said. “It is clear that the applicant has used the information from the Transportation Department for reporting purposes.”

The case against Choy has raised concerns about civil liberties in the semi-autonomous Chinese city as authorities continue to crack down on prominent figures associated with the democracy movement.

Dozens of suspected gang members forcibly assaulted democracy supporters and commuters at Yuen Long local train station, in northern Hong Kong, in July 2019. It took police 39 minutes to respond to the attack, which sparked criticism from pro-democracy protesters and worsened trust between the protesters. and authorities.

During Choy’s program, which aired on RTHK in July 2020, a narrator said producers had identified a few vehicles suspected of supplying weapons to the attackers. Using a vehicle registration database, manufacturers matched the vehicles with local village representatives who lived in the area before approaching them for comment.

Choy’s documentary has won two awards in Hong Kong, the most recent of which was Wednesday.

During the previous month Trial Choy’s attorney, Derek Chan, argued that Choy’s use of the database is “clearly related to traffic matters,” because the vehicles were suspected of carrying weapons for the perpetrators of the July 21 attack.

He added that public databases should remain open for the public good.

The case is seen as another example of the increasing restrictions on journalists. After the verdict, Choy supporters held signs and chanted slogans including “Journalism is not a crime” and “Bao Choy, keep fighting.”

International watchdog Reporters without Borders now places Hong Kong at 80 of the 180 countries and territories for freedom of the press. In 2002 the city was ranked 18th.