A reporter with a pro-Beijing newspaper in Hong Kong has lost his bid to delay his trial over providing a false statement when accessing a government database on car ownership until an appeal in a similar case is decided.
Principal Magistrate Ivy Chui Yee-mei also declined on Monday to exempt Ta Kung Pao employee Wong Wai-keung from appearing at future court hearings, saying the defendant was expected to enter his plea in person despite only being served with a summons.
The 47-year-old reporter was making his first appearance at West Kowloon Court after missing a previous hearing at Eastern Court last month. The reason for his absence was not given.
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He was issued a summons in February for allegedly providing a false statement to the Transport Department by claiming his request for the personal information of a private car owner was transport-related on August 15 last year.
The owner’s name, written in both Chinese and English, and the car plate number were contained in Ta Kung Pao’s top story published the next day that accused fugitive politician Ted Hui Chi-fung and his supporters of harassing the newspaper’s journalists.
The department allows access to a car owner’s name, addresses and identity card number for the purpose of legal proceedings, sale and purchase of vehicles and other traffic-related matters. The options do not include news reporting.
Under the Road Traffic Ordinance, anyone who knowingly makes a false statement faces up to six months’ imprisonment and a HK$5,000 (US$644) fine.
Bao Choy Yuk-ling, a contributor to public broadcaster RTHK, was fined HK$6,000 after being convicted on two counts of knowingly making a false statement after she was found to have twice deceived the department by using car ownership details obtained from a government database for news reporting.
She used the information in co-producing an episode of the television show Hong Kong Connection on a mob attack at Yuen Long railway station on July 21, 2019, during anti-government protests. She is challenging her conviction.
At Monday’s hearing, Wong asked for a nine-month delay in entering his plea pending that appeal. But Chui, who heard Choy’s trial, declined the request, saying both cases were similar and a long adjournment was unnecessary.
The magistrate also questioned why the prosecution issued Wong a summons without apprehending him but had detained Choy for questioning before prosecuting her by way of a charge sheet. Prosecutors said the cases were handled by different police officers but did not explain further.
Chui adjourned the case until June 17 to give Wong time to seek legal advice and released him on HK$1,000 bail.
The ruling in Choy’s case sparked an outcry from journalist groups over concerns of shrinking press freedoms at a time when the government is tightening access to public records.
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