HONG KONG: A Hong Kong court has sentenced Ronson Chan, the head of a journalists’ association, to five days in prison for obstructing police.

The ruling Monday on Chan, who chairs the Hong Kong Journalists Association, was condemned by media analysts as showing a further decline in press freedom in the region.

It came as media organizations called on authorities to free former Apple Daily publisher Jimmy Lai, who marked 1,000 days in prison Tuesday.

In Chan’s case, undercover police briefly detained him last September after he refused to hand over the identity card that all Hong Kong residents must carry.

The journalist told the court earlier that he had asked the police officer for her warrant card before complying. A government spokesperson told VOA on Tuesday that the officer involved did show Chan her warrant card.

Leung Ka-kie, the magistrate hearing Chan’s case, said that a fine for the incident would not reflect the gravity of the offense and that Chang had shown no remorse.

The journalist was released on $3,800 bail and ordered to surrender his travel documents.

In comments to reporters after the hearing, Chan said the verdict was not a surprise.

“Everyone can see how the court views the case. I think justice is in our heart,” he said.

Chan said he hoped journalists could “stand firm” in their duty to cover news for Hong Kong.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the ruling as another “deliberate humiliation to the freedom of the press in Hong Kong.”

“The court decision gives grounds to Hong Kong police’s harassment of journalists who are simply doing their job and shows how intolerant the Hong Kong government is towards the press,” said Iris Hsu, CPJ’s China representative.

Chung Kim-wah is a former assistant professor at the Department of Applied Social Sciences at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Chung told VOA the case is a “reflection of the decline of press freedom and freedom of speech in Hong Kong.”

He added that the action appeared to be “a deliberate attempt to disturb a reporter.”

Separately, the government spokesperson denied that the prosecution and conviction were related to the employment of the defendant or the freedom of the press.

The spokesperson said that because the proceedings are still active, “we are not in a position to comment.”

The court hearing came as international media organizations called for Britain to help secure the release of Jimmy Lai, the 75-year-old publisher and British citizen currently imprisoned in Hong Kong.

Lai is awaiting trial under Hong Kong’s national security law. He stands accused of sedition and collusion with foreign agents — with charges alleging he committed the crimes through his journalism and pro-democracy activism.

If convicted in that case, the founder of the now shuttered Apple Daily could face life in prison.

In its email, the government spokesperson referred VOA to a statement issued by Hong Kong authorities.

The statement “strongly condemned and opposed the misleading and slanderous remarks by various overseas organizations and media against the law enforcement actions and legal proceedings in respect of the cases involving Lai Chee-ying (Jimmy Lai) which constitute blatant political interference in the internal affairs of [Hong Kong] and the independent exercise of judicial power by the courts of the HKSAR.”

Analysts say Hong Kong has seen an “unprecedented” setback in press freedoms since it enacted the national security law in 2020.

Authorities say the law was needed to restore stability, but analysts say it has created a repressive environment for media.

Hong Kong ranks 140 out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index, where 1 shows the best environment for media.

Reporters Without Borders, which compiles the index, says dozens of journalists have been detained since the law was passed, and several media outlets have closed.

The authorities’ statement said that residents have fundamental rights and freedoms but “such rights and freedoms are not absolute.” Journalists, the statement said, “have an obligation to abide by all the laws.”


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