Bao Choy won awards for his investigation. She has now been convicted of her work

In a case that was seen as an additional blow to the city’s press freedoms, Bao Choy was found guilty on Thursday in the West Kowloon Magistrate’s Court in Hong Kong for violating the city’s traffic ordinance and received a penalty of 6,000 of Hong Kong dollars ($ 770). The charge led to a possible sentence of six months in prison.

Prosecutors said the freelance journalist violated the order because she searched the vehicle registration database while producing the documentary “Hong Kong Connection: 7.21 Who Owns the Truth?” for the public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK).

Prosecutors said the ordinance should only be used for “transport issues” – and not during reporting.

Magistrate Ivy Chui agreed, saying Choy’s use of the database was not in line with what vehicle owners expected when they submitted their data to the Department of Transportation. She said the government should not pass on the personal details of vehicle owners to users who do not use the information to the extent permitted.

“News reporting and gathering are not related to traffic and transportation issues,” Chui said. “It is clear that the applicant used the information from the Department of Transportation for reporting purposes.”

The case against Choy has heightened concerns about civil liberties in China’s semi-autonomous city as authorities continue to crack down on prominent figures linked to the democracy movement.

Dozens of suspected gang members violently attacked democracy supporters and commuters at Yuen Long Local Station in northern Hong Kong in July 2019. Police took 39 minutes to respond to the attack, sparking criticism from pro-democracy protesters and eroding confidence. between protesters and authorities.

During Choy’s program, which aired on RTHK in July 2020, a storyteller said that manufacturers had identified several vehicles that were suspected of supplying weapons to the attackers. Using a vehicle registration database, the manufacturers linked the vehicles to representatives of local villages living in the area, before addressing them for comments.

Choy’s documentary won two awards in Hong Kong, the most recent being one on Wednesday.

During the last month Choy’s lawyer, Derek Chan, claimed that the use of Choy’s database was “obviously linked to traffic problems” because the vehicles were suspected of carrying weapons for the perpetrators of the July 21 attack.

He added that public databases should remain open because of the public interest.

The case is seen as another example of the growing restrictions imposed on journalists. Following the verdict, Choy’s supporters held signs and chanted slogans, including “Journalism is not a crime” and “Bao Choy, fight on.”

The international borderless reporter now ranks Hong Kong in 80 of 180 countries and territories for press freedom. In 2002, the city ranked 18th.