A freelance journalist who produced a documentary for Hong Kong’s public broadcaster about last year’s Yuen Long mob attack has been charged with making false declarations after citing “traffic and transport-related matters” as her purpose in searching car ownership details on a government database.
Bao Choy Yuk-ling appeared on Tuesday at Fanling Court, where she was charged with violating a provision in the Road Traffic Ordinance. A guilty verdict could land her behind bars for up to six months.
The prosecution alleged the 37-year-old, who co-produced an episode of the RTHK television show Hong Kong Connection about the controversial July 21 incident, knowingly made false statements to the Transport Department on May 17 and June 10.
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Choy had sought access to what is officially known as a “certificate of particulars of motor vehicle”, allowing her to obtain the personal details of car owners, including their names, addresses and identity card numbers.
Applicants need to declare their purposes for seeking the information, but can only choose from one of three available options on the department’s webpage: “legal proceedings”, “sale and purchase of vehicles”, and “other traffic and transport related matters”.
Choy was said to have ticked the box indicating she would use the information for the third purpose, which the prosecution alleged was not her true intent.
Choy was not required to enter a plea at Tuesday’s hearing, as the prosecution asked the court for extra time to allow police to complete their investigation and finalise details of the allegations.
Principal Magistrate Don So Man-lung granted Choy bail of HK$1,000 until the next hearing on January 14.
Knowingly making a false statement is punishable by six months in jail and a HK$5,000 fine under the Road Traffic Ordinance.
After Tuesday’s hearing, the European Union office in Hong Kong tweeted that it was following Choy’s case “very closely”, and added a hashtag that said “Press freedom is a fundamental right”.
Choy’s prosecution has drawn widespread condemnation among journalist groups, scholars and opposition politicians, who have accused police of using the law to suppress normal reporting activities and created a chilling effect on investigative journalism.
A previous version of the access form Choy used had allowed applicants to type in their purpose rather than select from set categories.