Hong Kong investigative journalist wins appeal in rare ruling upholding press freedom: ‘Meaningful’

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In a rare move supporting press freedom, Hong Kong’s top court has overturned the conviction of an investigative journalist. The case, which has gained widespread attention in the media world, is seen as a landmark victory for journalism in the city.

The journalist, Bao Choy, was found guilty last year of violating privacy laws after she accessed a public database containing license plate information. Choy had used the information as part of an investigation into the handling of a mob attack on pro-democracy protesters at a train station in Yuen Long, in which police appeared to have turned a blind eye to the assailants.

Following her conviction, several media organizations and rights groups spoke out in support of Choy, arguing that her reporting was in the public interest and that the charges against her were an attempt to silence independent journalism in Hong Kong.

On Tuesday, Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal (CFA) ruled that Choy’s conviction was not proportionate to the offense. The court found that while Choy had technically breached privacy laws, her actions were not malicious and were justified in the public interest.

The ruling was hailed as a significant moment for press freedom in Hong Kong, which has come under increasing pressure in recent years as China tightens its grip on the territory. Since the imposition of a sweeping national security law last year, journalists in Hong Kong have faced greater restrictions on their reporting, and many fear that the city’s once-vibrant media industry is on the brink of extinction.

In a statement, Choy called the CFA’s ruling “meaningful” and thanked her supporters for standing by her throughout the legal process. “This decision isn’t just for me, it’s for all journalists in Hong Kong who are fighting to protect press freedom,” she said.

The case has also drawn attention to the so-called “grey area” of journalist work in Hong Kong, where reporters often rely on a mix of formal and informal channels to gather information and hold those in power accountable. Critics argue that the city’s government has sought to criminalize this kind of reporting, thereby curbing the voice of opposition and limiting public access to vital information.

The CFA’s ruling sends a message that investigative journalism will not be stamped out in Hong Kong. However, the victory is tempered by the reality that media freedom in the city remains under threat. As China continues to tighten its control over Hong Kong, journalists face an increasingly difficult task of holding those in power to account.

In recent years, several high-profile journalists have been targeted for their reporting, including Jimmy Lai, the founder of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily. Lai was jailed last year for his role in the 2019 pro-democracy protests that swept across Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, other media outlets have faced increasing pressure from the authorities. Last year, the Hong Kong government refused to renew the work visas of several staff members at the Financial Times, in what was widely seen as an attempt to intimidate foreign media outlets.

Despite the challenges facing journalists in Hong Kong, the CFA’s ruling provides a glimmer of hope for those fighting to protect press freedom. As Choy put it, the decision is a reminder that “journalism – the watchdog of society – will not be silenced.”