State Department, Rights Groups Voice Concerns Over Arrest of Hong Kong TV Producer

November 5, 2020 Updated: November 5, 2020

U.S. officials and media watch groups voiced their concerns about the recent arrest of a television producer in Hong Kong that further stoked fears of the demise of press freedom in the Chinese-ruled city.

As the world responded, another journalist, who works for a local news site, was arrested on Nov. 5 afternoon.

The TV producer, Choy Yuk-ling, also known as Bao Choy, is employed by Hong Kong’s public broadcaster RTHK. On Tuesday, she was arrested at her home by Hong Kong police on suspicion of making false statements to obtain vehicle records, which were related to her investigative report. She was released on the same day after posting HKD$ 1,000 bail (about $129) and is scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 10.

“The U.S. is deeply concerned about the arrest of Hong Kong journalist @baochoy on charges related to her work as an investigative journalist,” stated State Department’s deputy spokesperson Cale Brown on his Twitter account on Nov. 4.

Brown added: “The Chinese Communist Party and their Hong Kong proxies must cease efforts to crush press freedom.”

The investigative documentary, which aired on the RTHK program “Hong Kong Connections” in July with the title “7.21 Who Owns the Truth,” was co-produced by Choy. On YouTube alone, it has been viewed over 1.4 million times.

The documentary examined what happened near the Yuen Long metro station on July 21 last year. About 430,000 protesters had staged a peaceful protest earlier in the day against an extradition bill that proposed allowing individuals to be transferred to mainland Chinese courts. In the evening, a mob of white-shirted men wielding bamboo sticks and metal poles suddenly entered the train station and attacked commuters. At least 45 people were injured.

The Hong Kong police force was heavily criticized for taking 39 minutes to arrive on the scene after receiving calls for help. Pro-democracy activists accused the police of colluding with the white-shirted men, but police have denied the claims.

Choy’s documentary tracked down vehicles used to transport the suspected attackers, based on plate numbers caught on surveillance footage from the metro station’s nearby shops. Two of the vehicle owners were revealed to be local community leaders in neighboring villages.

According to Hong Kong’s Road Traffic Ordinance, Choy faces a fine of HK$5,000 (about $645) and six months in prison if convicted.

Concerns

On Nov. 4, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) took to Twitter to express concerns over Choy’s arrest.

“The state police force in #HongKong continues to be a puppet for Communist China to silence truth and target anyone who speaks up against their human rights abuses,” Scott stated.

U.S.-based nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on Hong Kong authorities to drop all charges against Choy in a statement issued on Nov. 3.

“Arresting and searching the home of documentary producer Choy Yuk Ling over a routine search of a vehicle database is an absurdly disproportionate action that amounts to an assault on press freedom,” said Steven Butler, Asia program coordinator of CPJ.

Johnny Patterson, policy director of British NGO Hong Kong Watch, said in a statement that Choy’s arrest is “nothing less than an outright assault on press freedom.”

The Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) also called on charges against Choy to be dropped immediately, in a statement issued on Nov. 4.

“The arrest of Choy Yuk-ling is a further sign that Hong Kong, under China’s direction, is extending its crackdown on press freedom,” said Scott Griffen, IPI’s deputy director. “Choy Yuk-ling was conducting an investigation in the public interest.“

On Nov. 5, the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) and several press unions held a press conference criticizing local prosecution against Choy.

“We hope that [this] won’t become a trend, a very unhealthy, damaging trend, for people to make use of their power and resources to suppress media organizations—[in] particular those that they do not agree with,” said HKJA chairman Chris Yeung at the press conference.

Another Arrest

On Thursday afternoon, local online news website Ben Yu Entertainment announced on its Facebook page that one of its female reporters, named “KY,” was arrested at around 8 a.m. She posted bail at around 5 p.m. local time. She was accused of “obstructing a public officer in the execution of his duty” in the Mong Kok district on May 10.

In a statement issued after she posted bail, Ben Yu Entertainment explained that KY was brutally treated by the police that day. She was entering a public toilet when she saw women being arrested by the police. As she attempted to film what was happening, riot police forcibly took away her filming equipment, and then pepper-sprayed her. She was then forced to the ground and an officer pressed his knee on her neck.

KY then briefly lost consciousness. She was arrested that day on the charge of “misconduct in public places,” but was eventually released.

On May 10, Hong Kong police had arrested over 230 protesters for offenses such as unlawful assembly from the site of demonstrations across the city.

Calling KY’s arrest “suppression,” the news site stated that it will continue to uphold its “fourth estate” duties and defend press freedom. KY is scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 9.

National Security Law

Choy and KY’s cases add to a growing list of incidents in the past few months indicating a rapid decline of press freedom in Hong Kong.

Since Beijing implemented its so-called “national security law” in the city—which punishes vaguely-defined crimes such as secession and subversion of the one-party communist state with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment—local journalists have encountered restrictions.

On Aug. 6, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong issued a statement condemning “highly unusual” incidents of foreign journalists facing delays in receiving visas. Three weeks later, local media Hong Kong Free Press said that Hong Kong immigration authorities refused to issue a visa to its incoming editor, but did not provide an official reason.

Days later, on August 10, Hong Kong police arrested 10 people, including media tycoon and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai, for suspected offenses under the national security law. Following Lai’s arrest at his home, more than 200 police raided the newsroom of Apple Daily, one of the media outlets under Lai’s conglomerate.

In September, Hong Kong police announced new guidelines for media, ending recognition of media representatives who hold press passes issued by local media associations such as HKJA and Hong Kong Press Photographers Association (HKPPA). Only media representatives who work for government-registered or “well-known” international media outlets would be recognized and allowed to report in police-cordoned areas.

In response to the new guidelines, HKJA, HKPPA, and six other press groups issued a joint statement saying that police shouldn’t use “administrative means to censor the media.”

“The amendment allows authorities to decide who are reporters, which fundamentally changes the existing system in Hong Kong. It will be no different to an official accreditation system, which will seriously impede press freedom in Hong Kong, leading the city toward authoritarian rule,” they said.

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer