The Department of Justice has dropped charges brought by the police against Apple Daily and Ming Pao Daily, which were accused of violating a rule that bans media from reporting details of bail procedures regarding defendants under trial, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
On October 4 last year, the two newspapers published stories about a sexual assault case, revealing the contents of the 34-year-old defendant’s bail application and his criminal record.
The stories came after the defendant, who had been accused of masturbating in front of a little girl, applied for bail to a Fanling Magistrates’ Court, Ming Pao said.
After reading the reports on the bail application by the two newspapers, the police decided to charge them based on Clause 9P of the Criminal Procedure Ordinance which forbids media from doing so.
The prosecution issued a total of five summonses, including one for Ming Pao Group and one for Ming Pao Daily, two for Apple Daily, and one for Chan Pui-man, Apple Daily’s editor-in-chief.
However, the department said on Thursday the two newspapers published the stories with no intention of doing harm and therefore the summonses issued against the defendants should be withdrawn as trial of the case in question was not adversely affected since the defendant had already pleaded guilty to the charge.
While reiterating that the freedom of speech and of the press should be respected, the department said its responsibility is to make sure all criminal trials are conducted fairly.
It also said it will still consider prosecuting any act against Clause 9P of the Criminal Procedure Ordinance on case by case basis and will see to it that there is sufficient evidence and public interest is met.
Meanwhile, Chan raised a question about selective prosecution.
Barrister Gerard McCoy, representing Apple Daily, said the fact that Chan was prosecuted but not his counterpart, Chong Tien-siong, the chief editor of Ming Pao Daily, posed a question, adding that he had written to the justice department to demand an answer but no reply had been received.
Sing Tao Daily also published a similar story but no charge was brought against it, McCoy said.
He suspected there might be selective prosecution involved, wondering if it is because both Apple Daily and Ming Pao Daily have been tagged as “anti-government” while Sing Tao Daily is not.
Denying that there was selective prosecution involved, the justice department said Thursday night in a reply to Apple Daily’s query that the police did not mention Sing Tao Daily in its submitted report and the decision to drop the charges against the two newspapers was based on the principle of fairness and other factors, without mentioning why Chong was not prosecuted.
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