Hong Kong police arrested an award-winning investigative journalist whose documentary exposed delays and inaction by authorities during a mob attack on pro-democracy protesters last year, as the embattled territory’s independent press face increased pressure.
Police confirmed Tuesday’s arrest of Choy Yuk-ling, a local freelance journalist on assignment for public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) but dismissed allegations that it was an attack on the media.
Hong Kong reporters often track vehicle licence records through a public database for crime and traffic stories. Choy became the first journalist to be arrested for this practice.
Police officials said she had misused the system and gave them false statements in order to obtain information and records about car owners. Her show traced and identified owners of cars that gave rides to the gang attackers, revealing that two drivers involved in the attacks were rural village leaders.
Choy was granted bail and will appear in court next week where she faces fines and six months in prison if found guilty. She defended her work after being released.
“As a journalist, all I’ve done is adhere to journalistic principles,” she told local reporters, adding that her arrest raises fears of escalating crackdowns on journalists and press freedom in the city under Beijing’s new national security law.
Dubbed the Yuen Long station attack, the chilling events that took place on the night of July 21, 2019, still haunt Hong Kong more than a year on. Members of the public captured on film the moment a group of masked assailants wielding wooden poles and dressed in white – widely suspected to be Chinese triad gangsters – stormed a train station in the north-eastern Yuen Long district following nearby protests. The brazen attack was captured on live-streams as passengers and bystanders were chased and assaulted by members of the mob with police guards standing by but not intervening.
The event spread widely on social media and called police conduct into question.
Earlier in July, tens of thousands took to the streets to mark the first year anniversary of the ill-fated event. Local politician and pro-democracy advocate Lo Kin-hei, who personally witnessed the events play out, shared his account and said that it was the night that “Hong Kong changed forever“.
“Even until today, I still can’t believe the inaction of the police during the Yuen Long attack,” Lo previously told VICE News. “Hundreds of emergency calls from the public about the attack going on at the station were made, yet from what I saw on the livestreams, the police stood by and did nothing.”
After Choy’s arrest on Tuesday, RTHK, which has a reputation for aggressive and dogged journalism, reiterated their worries and fears for media freedom in the city. “The episode 7.21 Who Owns the Truth revealed how police were patrolling the town before the rampage and took no action over the men wielding weapons,” RTHK chief Leung Ka-wing said.
“The arrest leaves our station’s staff afraid and worried about whether they can carry on reporting news as before, but it won’t stop our investigative journalism.”
Local lawmaker Claudia Mo slammed Choy’s arrest, calling it “a blatant attack on press freedom,” while advocacy groups like Hong Kong Watch also criticized the police force. “The police have failed to hold the perpetrators of the Yuen Long attack accountable. For the victims, there has still been no justice. Instead, they have chosen to arrest a journalist whose only crime is reminding the world of that fact,” the group said in a statement.
Via Vice News