Claudia Mo is seen after resigning from her office as a legislator in Hong Kong on November 13, 2020. Hong Kong authorities recently cited Mo's communications with journalists to deny her bail. (Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

Hong Kong cites encrypted communications with journalists to deny bail to former lawmaker

Taipei, May 28, 2021 – The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned Hong Kong authorities’ decision to cite communications with foreign journalists as a reason to deny bail to former pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo.

The Hong Kong High Court cited Mo’s interviews and texts with reporters from The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Bloomberg, Sky News, and the BBC as reasons for denying her bail on April 14, according to a copy of the criminal proceedings published by the Hong Kong judiciary today. The proceedings cited encrypted WhatsApp messages Mo sent to reporters.

Authorities arrested Mo in January for alleged crimes including “conspiracy to commit subversion” under Hong Kong’s National Security Law, and seized her computers and phones during her arrest, accord to various news reports. Authorities also seized the computer of her husband, Asia Sentinel news website co-founder Philip Bowring, during that raid, according to those reports, which said that Bowring is not under investigation.

“Authorities’ use of encrypted communications with reporters to deny bail to former pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo marks a new alarming assault on press freedom in Hong Kong,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “The idea that a person’s texts and interviews with mainstream international press outlets are evidence of subversion is absurd, and will create severe obstacles for journalists in Hong Kong who are just reporting the news.”

According to the criminal proceedings, prosecutors alleged that Mo was “misleading the international press” and had repeatedly referred to the “desperation and loss of human rights and freedom” in Hong Kong to foreign media outlets.

Prosecutors alleged that Mo “had remained vocal and highly influential in both local and international platforms” and may “continue to commit acts endangering national security,” and therefore her bail should be denied.

Journalists in Hong Kong have faced increasing repression and harassment since the passage of the National Security Law on July 1, 2020, as CPJ has documented.