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Head of Hong Kong Journalists Association Arrested, Released on Bail

FILE – Ronson Chan, chair of the Hong Kong Journalist Association, poses outside his former employer Stand News, which was shut down after a police raid in Hong Kong, Jan. 7, 2022. Chan is on bail after being arrested Sept. 7, 2022, while on assignment in the Mongkok district.

Bangkok, Thailand — 

The chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) is out on bail following his arrest Wednesday while on assignment.

Ronson Chan is due to report to a police station September 21 on obstruction of police and disorderly conduct charges.

Chan says he and a videographer were covering a public estate meeting of tenants in the Mongkok district when officers stopped them for “suspicious” behavior. Chan works for Channel C, an independent media outlet.

“I was caught by two uniformed police and asked to show my ID card for my behavior, and I [said they] must clarify who they are,” Chan told VOA. “But another elderly police station sergeant came and joined the discussion and wanted me to follow the instruction or they would arrest me. And he only gave me [a] warning twice before he arrested me.”

The South China Morning Post reported that Chan was arrested for not cooperating with police. Other reports say the videographer was not arrested. Chan said neither his phone nor passport was taken and that he posted bail of about $63.

Despite his arrest, Chan said he still plans to leave Hong Kong at the end of the month as he is due to begin a Reuters Institute fellowship program at the University of Oxford in Britain. It is not known whether he will be blocked from leaving Hong Kong.

Hong Kong media challenges

Hong Kong’s media have faced challenging times since China imposed a national security law two years ago on the city following anti-government protests in 2019.

The law strictly prohibits acts deemed as secession, subversion, and foreign collusion. Since the legislation came into force, journalists have been arrested, charged and jailed, while some foreign reporters have been denied visa renewals.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said Chan could face up to six months in prison if convicted of obstructing police, and up to a year in prison if found guilty of public disorder.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong (FCCHK) said there was concern about the arrest considering Chan’s position within the journalism community and the international attention on press freedom in the city.

A spokesperson for the commissioner’s office of the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong rejected the FCC’s statement and said the police were acting in accordance with the law.

Pro-Beijing newspaper Tai Kung Pao also criticized Chan and Channel C in one of several reports published on Thursday.

Chan’s arrest marks his latest encounter with police in the past year.

Chan once served as deputy assignment editor of news outlet Stand News.

Last December, he and several others were arrested after police raided its newsrooms as part of a sedition investigation.

Chan was questioned but not charged. Stand News closed after the raid.

Although sedition is not among the offenses listed under the security law, recent court judgments have enabled authorities to use its powers under a colonial-era sedition law.

Pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily was forced to close in June 2021 after several of its executives were charged under the security law, prompting authorities to freeze the company’s financial assets.

Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai has been in prison since the end of 2020. He faces three charges under the security law and possible life in prison. Lai pleaded not guilty to one charge in August and faces trial later this year.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders recently announced its World Press Freedom Index for 2022. Hong Kong tumbled down the rankings from 80th place to 148th, with one being the freest place and 180 being the opposite.