Journalist Bao Choy Yuk-ling, who was today convicted of making false statements to Transport Department during an investigation into links between police and triads, says her arrest and conviction should set off “alarm bells for journalists” in the city.
Choy was found guilty on two counts of violating the Road Traffic Ordinance, and fined HK$6,000.
According to the prosecution, Choy knowingly supplied false material information when signing a form requesting a licence plate search. That form implies the information gathered should only be used for traffic or transport related matters – the magistrate upheld the prosecution’s assertion that Choy’s investigation into cars which had been suspected of supplying weapons to triad gangs had nothing to do with transport. The magistrate also upheld that the ticking of a box claiming the information would only be used for transport purposes was “material information”.
“Undoubtedly, the purposes of the Defendant’s applications for the Certificates were to obtain the name and address of the registered owner of the Vehicle in order to conduct interviews and reporting, which had no connection with ‘other traffic and transport related matters’ [the purpose Choy claimed],” said magistrate Ivy Chui in summing up.
“While the online application system of the Transport Department for the Certificate is provided for the public’s use, the Commissioner must protect the registered vehicle owners, whose particulars should not be allowed to be arbitrarily disclosed for inspection by others,” said Chui.
A crowd of around 50 supporters stood outside the court building and cheered when Choy emerged this afternoon. Many supporters held signs saying “Journalism is Not a Crime” or “Who Wants The Public Kept In the Dark”.
A tearful Choy said journalists mustn’t give up. “You must try your best to do what you can do in the circumstances and safeguard our values,” she said.
Senior Superintendent Stephen Baker, who runs police operations at the West Kowloon Law Courts, told Transit Jam that what Choy had done was “fucking stupid”.
“Whatever her motives, it’s illegal,” Baker said, on the court’s sidelines, adding that he thought any appeal by Choy would see her sentence upped to at least a week in jail.
The chairwoman of the RTHK Programme Staff Union, Gladys Chiu, said Choy was a courageous journalist. “The fourth power is not a privilege, but it is a vital check and balance mechanism to watch over those in power,” she said.
Following Choy’s arrest last year, the Transport Department added an alert service for vehicle owners to receive an SMS or email if a journalist or other investigator had searched their records.