A journalism professor has called it shocking and strange for police to arrest a journalist for searching the personal information of car owners from a government database. RTHK producer Bao Choy was arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of violating the Road Traffic Ordinance by making false statements when conducting a vehicle registration search - which is meant purely for transportation purposes.
Professor Francis Lee, the director of The Chinese University's Journalism School, says doing car plate searches was an established practise in the media, with implied consent among all parties concerned. He said police had moved the goal posts.
"It was an established practice there seems to have been a tacit agreement between all parties in society, all parties involved," Lee said. "This kind of search done by reporters should be allowed."
Lee said that, although there was no explicit statement on the form saying that reporting by journalists was allowed, it had been an established practice.
Choy had worked on RTHK investigations into the July 21 Yuen Long mob attack last year, which showed how police were already patrolling the town as large groups of weapon-carrying men started to gather, and well before the violence began. Sources said the arrest was in connection with licence plate searches involving vehicles seen picking up men suspected of being involved in the Yuen Long attack.
Speaking after she was freed on bail, Choy told reporters that her arrest is unfortunate in that it might arouse public concern that the police may be trying to suppress press freedom.
She also urged her media colleagues not to let the incident affect their journalistic beliefs and enthusiasm.
Choy is scheduled to appear in Fanling Court next Tuesday.
In August this year, police sought to present an entirely new version of events regarding the mob violence as they arrested some of the victims on suspicion of "rioting".
Rather than an indiscriminate attack, the force’s new description of what happened was a fight between two “equally-matched” sides.
This contradicted the police's own statement in the hours after the atrocity which said "some people attacked commuters at the platforms of the Yuen Long MTR Station and train compartments, resulting in multiple injuries".