Hong Kong police have arrested and charged a journalist at a public broadcaster in relation to a documentary about the 2019 Yuen Long incident, when police were accused of standing by as armed thugs attacked commuters.
RTHK confirmed the arrest of Choy Yuk-ling, one of the producers of Hong Kong Connection. The respected current affairs programme investigated the police response to the attack, which left 45 people needing treatment in hospital.
Police charged Choi with two counts of giving false information, by misusing a vehicle number plate search as part of the investigation. The case will go before a magistrates court on 10 November, where she faces fines of up to HK$5,000 and six months in jail.
Video footage of the attack, on 21 July 2019, showed dozens of mostly masked men in white shirts storming a mass transit station in Yuen Long, chasing passengers and beating them with sticks. Hong Kong Connection used licence plate searches to connect cars seen at Yuen Long to people involved in the attack, and revealed links between alleged attackers and influential pro-Beijing village committees.
“The show revealed how police were patrolling the town before the rampage and took no action over the men wielding weapons,” RTHK said in a tweet confirming Choy’s arrest.
Police were widely criticised for failing to attend emergency calls from Yuen Long for over half an hour and making no arrests on the night, prompting accusations of collusion, which were exacerbated when pictures emerged of police officers standing alongside the attackers. Police have strenuously denied the accusations of collusion.
RTHK’s director of broadcasting, Leung Ka-wing, said the station was “afraid”, and if the arrest was due to Choy’s reporting then it was a serious matter for the entire industry.
“We are worried … whether we can continue the way we produce accurate news as before,” Leung said, but when asked if RTHK would put any current investigations on hold, he replied: “Why should we stop?”
Hong Kong journalists questioned the arrest, suggesting it was an attempt to discourage reporters from accessing public records to investigate authorities. The application form to search vehicle registration records was significantly tightened this year, leaving no option for journalistic queries.
“I think authorities are now exhausting every possible way to suppress the press, to make it difficult, if not impossible, for reporters to do their job to dig out the truth, to publish stories that make [the authorities] feel embarrassed,” the chair of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, Chris Yeung, told RTHK.
A local news reporter, Alvin Lum, said on Twitter that Hong Kong privacy law allowed for journalistic public interest exceptions, and the arrest would set an “outrageous precedent to use of public registries and undermine transparency”.
Since last year’s mass protests, and in particular since the introduction of the national security law in June, Hong Kong authorities have waged a crackdown on dissent and criticism.
While this is the first time a full-time journalist has been arrested in relation to their reporting, observers have blamed the national security law for creating a chilling effect on media and academics. The public broadcaster RTHK has been under particular pressure from pro-Beijing government members and authorities.
Yuen Long was the highest profile incident involving accusations or instances of police misconduct or brutality during the 2019 protests. No police officer has ever been charged, and in May an internal report by the police watchdog, the IPCC, covering the 2019 protest period, largely cleared them of any wrongdoing.
The IPCC said while police were slow to act at Yuen Long, it saw no evidence of collusion between police officers and the attackers – although it acknowledged it did not have the power to investigate collusion – and said that if police had taken any arrest action it would “would only escalate the situation”.