Police surround an activist outside a Hong Kong court on February 1, 2024, on the verdict day of a trial involving protesters who stormed the Legislative Council during the pro-democracy protests in 2019. The court found journalists Wong Ka-ho and Ma Kai-chung guilty of unlawfully entering the legislative council. (AP/Louise Delmotte)

Hong Kong court finds 2 journalists guilty of unlawfully entering legislature during 2019 protests

Taipei, February 1, 2024— A Hong Kong court found journalists Wong Ka-ho and Ma Kai-chung guilty of unlawfully entering the legislative council on July 1, 2019, during a protest where demonstrators stormed the parliament in opposition to an extradition bill that would have allowed authorities to send Hong Kong citizens to mainland China for trial, according to news reports.

Hong Kong authorities should drop the charges, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday, and allow journalists to report freely without fear.

At the time of the incident, Wong was reporting for a student publication at the City University of Hong Kong, while Ma worked as a reporter for the newspaper and online news website Passion Times.

The two were charged with rioting and unlawfully entering the legislative council along with 11 other co-defendants. Both Wong and Ma pleaded not guilty to the charges, according to Passion Times and a copy of the verdict reviewed by CPJ.

Authorities released the journalists on bail Thursday pending sentencing, according to those reports. They face a potential fine of 2,000 Hong Kong dollars (USD $255) and up to 3 months imprisonment, according to the city’s Legislative Council Ordinance.

“The verdict today contradicts the freedom of the press that Hong Kong authorities have repeatedly assured, and unfortunately, it could serve as a bellwether for future cases involving journalists covering significant events,” said Iris Hsu, CPJ’s China representative. “Journalists must be free to report on civil unrest without fear of being prosecuted.”

Hong Kong Journalists Association released a statement calling the verdict “unreasonable,” saying that it disregards the freedom of the press that is guaranteed by law.

CPJ was unable to confirm whether the journalists plan to appeal.

The Hong Kong Police Force did not immediately respond to CPJ’s email requesting comment.  

China is the world’s worst jailer of journalists, according to CPJ’s annual prison census, with at least 44 journalists in prison for their work as of December 1, 2023.