Hong Kong’s top court will allow journalist Bao Choy to appeal her conviction over accessing car licence information for an investigative documentary about a mob attack in Yuen Long in July 2019.

Journalist Bao Choy outside the Court of Final Appeal on Jan. 17, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Speaking to reporters outside the Court of Final Appeal on Tuesday, Choy said the court’s decision that morning showed the belief that there were points of controversy worth discussing in her case, and which involved significant public interest.

“Whether I win or lose [the appeal]… the public already has a judgement in their hearts,” Choy said.

The journalist was found guilty in 2021 of making false statements to obtain vehicle records for a documentary she was producing for public broadcaster RTHK, the subject of which was the July 21, 2019, attack at Yuen Long MTR station, which took place amid widespread protests that year.

The incident saw dozens of white-shirted men, reportedly with triad affiliations, indiscriminately assault commuters and protesters returning from a demonstration that night.

In making the documentary, Choy and other producers used a public database to review records of vehicles suspected of transporting assailants and weapons to the site of the attack.

The attack at Yuen Long MTR station on July 21, 2019. Photo: Screenshot.

Choy appealed her conviction at the High Court in August, but the judge upheld the guilty verdict.

The Court of Final Appeal will hear the journalist’s case on May 3, which is World Press Freedom Day.

Press freedom in decline

Choy’s defence is seeking to contend three aspects of her case – whether the purpose of applying for access to the public records is important, how “traffic and transport matters” is defined, and if Choy knew that her application was unrelated to traffic matters.

The appeal, overseen by Court of Final Appeal judges Robert Ribeiro, Joseph Fok, Johnson Lam, will be Choy’s last chance to overturn the conviction.

Journalist Bao Choy outside the Court of Final Appeal on Jan. 17, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Press freedom in Hong Kong has come under the spotlight since Beijing passed a national security law in June 2020 in response to large-scale protests that began in the summer of 2019 against a proposed amendment to the city’s extradition bill.

In 2021, two major news outlets Apple Daily and Stand News – both known for their pro-democracy stance – closed down after their newsrooms were raided and staff arrested under national security and sedition charges.

Media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which publishes an annual ranking of the press freedom situation globally, put Hong Kong at 148th place in 2022 – 68 spots lower than it had been the previous year. The watchdog ranks a total of 180 countries and territories.

The government, however, has said that press freedom is “respected and protected”, but that such rights are “not absolute.”

Correction 18/1/2023: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Bao Choy had spoken to reporters outside the Court of Final Appeal on Thursday, when it should have been Tuesday. We regret the error.

Support HKFP  |  Code of Ethics  |  Error/typo?  |  Contact Us  |  Newsletter  | Transparency & Annual Report

Support press freedom & help us surpass 1,000 monthly Patrons: 100% independent, governed by an ethics code & not-for-profit, Hong Kong Free Press is #PressingOn with impartial, award-winning, frontline coverage.

Hillary Leung

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.