Prosecutors said the freelance journalist violated the decree because she searched the vehicle registration database while producing the documentary “Hong Kong Connection: 7.21 Who owns the truth?” for the public radio station Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK).
Prosecutors said the decree should be used only for “transportation issues” – and not during the reporting process.
Judge Ivy Chui agreed, saying that Choy’s use of the database was not in line with what vehicle owners expected when they sent their data to the Department of Transportation. She said the government should not provide personal data of vehicle owners to users who do not use the information within the permitted scope.
“Reporting and news gathering are not linked to issues related to traffic and transportation,” said Chui. “It is obvious that the applicant used the information from the Department of Transportation for reporting purposes.”
The case against Choy has intensified concerns about civil liberties in the semi-autonomous Chinese city, as officials continue to crack down on prominent figures linked to the democracy movement.
Dozens of suspected gang members violently attacked democracy supporters and passengers inside the local Yuen Long train station in northern Hong Kong in July 2019. The police took 39 minutes to respond to the attack, prompting criticism from pro-democracy protesters. and worsening confidence between protesters and officials.
During Choy’s program, which aired on RTHK in July 2020, a narrator said the producers identified some vehicles that were suspected of having supplied weapons to the attackers. Using a vehicle registration database, producers linked the vehicles to representatives of local villages who lived in the area, before approaching them for comment.
Choy’s documentary won two awards in Hong Kong, the most recent on Wednesday.
Over the past month Choy’s lawyer, Derek Chan, argued that Choy’s use of the database was “obviously related to traffic issues” because the vehicles were suspected of carrying weapons for the perpetrators of the July 21 attack.
He added that public databases must remain open due to the public interest.
The case is seen as yet another example of increasing restrictions on journalists. After the verdict was given, Choy’s supporters held up signs and shouted slogans like “Journalism is not a crime” and “Bao Choy, keep fighting”.
Reporters Without Borders, an international watchdog organization, now ranks Hong Kong 80th out of 180 countries and territories in freedom of the press. In 2002, the city ranked 18th.