Two journalists have been newly sentenced for covering pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019 and 2020. Police are pictured here detaining protesters after a protest in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong on July 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

CPJ calls for release of 2 journalists jailed for covering Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests

Taipei, January 5, 2023 – Hong Kong authorities must immediately release two journalists jailed in relation to their coverage of protests in 2019 and 2020, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday. Freelancers Tang Cheuk-yu and Choy Kin-yue are among many facing criminal charges for documenting the city’s historic pro-democracy demonstrations during that period. 

A court sentenced Tang to 15 months’ imprisonment on December 21, 2022, on charges of “possession of offensive weapons in a public place” while on assignment for the Taiwanese public broadcaster Public Television Service (PTS), the outlet’s producer Hsu Yun-kang told CPJ. Tang was originally arrested in November 2019 then released on bail; he was remanded in custody pending sentence after he was found guilty on November 30, 2022. Hsu said he will appeal. 

Separately, Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal overturned Choy Kin-yue’s successful high court appeal against his conviction by a lower court for participating in an “unlawful assembly” in March 2020. Choy, an independent cameraman, began serving his three-month prison sentence on the day of the final verdict, December 16, 2022. News reports said he began filming protests in June 2019 hoping the footage could be used for news and documentaries.   

“The imprisonment of Tang Cheuk-yu and Choy Kin-yue is another example of how the relentless pursuit of criminal charges against reporters has decimated the city’s independent media,” said Iris Hsu, CPJ’s China representative. “Authorities should release them at once and drop all legal proceedings against them and other journalists facing jail time for pursuing their profession.”

Police arrested Tang while he was filming their tense standoff with protesters at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University on November 18, 2019, and charged him with “possession of anything with intent to destroy or damage property”, and “possession of offensive weapons in a public place,” according to court records. He was released on bail two days later.

Tang was wearing a press vest during his arrest, PTS said, and police confiscated his camera and equipment, including a laser pen, a multipurpose tool, and ropes which he told the court he used to secure his camera. Prosecutors subsequently characterized them as weapons.

Choy, who has worked in Hong Kong’s film industry, was arrested on March 8, 2020 after he filmed a group of people chasing a plainclothes police officer at a gathering to mourn the death of a pro-democracy protester. After Choy was handed the three-month sentence in August 2021, a high court judge acquitted him on appeal in March 2022. The prosecution appealed that decision, resulting in his imprisonment in December.

In an email to CPJ, the Hong Kong police public relations branch said that the arrests and prosecutions of Tang and Choy were “directed against the criminal act and has nothing to do with the political stance, background or occupation of the persons concerned.” The email stated that “journalists, like everyone else, have an obligation to abide by the law.”  

China was the world’s second-worst jailer of journalists in 2022, according to CPJ’s annual prison census.

Editor’s note: The penultimate paragraph has been updated with a comment from the Hong Kong police.