Show caption Ronson Chan, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), talks to the media outside the Mongkok police station in Hong Kong before he was charged with obstructing police. Photograph: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images Hong Kong Hong Kong journalist charged days before leaving for Oxford fellowship Ronson Chan was due to travel to the UK when he was arrested for ‘obstructing police’ Guardian staff and agencies Tue 20 Sep 2022 14.40 BST Share on Facebook
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The head of Hong Kong’s journalist union was charged with obstructing police on Monday, 10 days before he was set to leave the city and begin an overseas fellowship at Oxford University.
Ronson Chan, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), was arrested on 7 September over a dispute with two officers who asked to see his identification while he was covering a residents’ meeting at a public housing estate.
The police say Chan refused to provide his ID card and behaved in an “uncooperative” way despite multiple warnings.
He was charged Monday for obstructing a police officer, an offence that carries up to two years in jail, and will appear in court on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters after he was formally charged, Chan maintained he had acted within his rights by asking to see the officers’ warrant cards.
“Not an easy environment,” he said, when asked whether media freedoms were deteriorating in Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association is one of the last major professional groups in Hong Kong advocating fundamental rights and media freedoms, following the enactment in June 2020 of the controversial national security law by Chinese authorities.
Authorities have used a national security law and colonial-era sedition charges to crack down on dissent in Hong Kong after pro-democracy protests three years ago.
“I told them I do not understand the charge … I did not obstruct any police officers,” Chan said outside the police station.
Chan has disputed the police’s account, saying he was asking the officers to explain why they had subjected him to a search and was cuffed before he could get his card out.
He also accused the officers of threatening him on the way to the police station, saying they made comments such as “let’s see when you will die”.
Some western governments have criticised the national security law as a tool of repression in Hong Kong, which was handed back to Chinese rule by Britain in 1997. Beijing and Hong Kong authorities say the law has brought stability after the demonstrations in 2019.
The HKJA has been under pressure to disband from pro-Beijing media outlets who accuse it of being an anti-China organisation with ties to overseas groups such as the National Endowment for Democracy – claims the HKJA has denied.
In April, Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) suspended its annual Human Rights Press Awards so as not to “unintentionally” violate any laws, in what was seen as another sign of eroding media freedoms in the Asian financial hub.
Chan had been planning to leave Hong Kong at the end of September for the six-month Reuters Institute fellowship programme at Oxford University.
Rasmus Nielsen, director of the Reuters Institute, said: “We will welcome Ronson Chan to Oxford as part of the Reuters Institute’s journalism fellowship as soon as possible. He is a distinguished and experienced journalist with much to share, and everyone here is looking forward to hosting him.”
Local media deemed critical of the government have faced a surge of police investigations and the city has plummeted down global press freedom rankings.
Hong Kong dropped 68 places to 148th in the annual press freedom index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) this year.
Local tabloid Apple Daily and online news platform StandNews – which Chan used to work for – were forced to close last year after executives were charged with national security violations, leaving hundreds of journalists out of work.
With Reuters and Agence France-Presse