The Mass Prosecution
Country/area: Hong Kong S.A.R., China
Organisation: Initium Media
Organisation size: Small
Publication date: 24 Jul 2020
Credit: Gemini Cheng Pui Shan, Irene Chan, Kexin Lin, Lam Chun Tung, Victoria Jin, Tseng Lee-Yu
The anti-extradition bill movement has brought about an unprecedented governance crisis that has completely transformed Hong Kong. Freedoms were stripped from people overnight in the huge wave of prosecutions that followed. Society began to cast doubt on the fairness and independence of the judiciary.
By cross referencing court records, news reports, and police numbers, we at The Initium Media produced an interactive documentation of this mass prosecution.
We also conducted in-depth interviews with those prosecuted and their lawyers, shining light on the pressures they face after being arrested, and issues such as excessive police powers and injustice.
Initium Media targets the readers coming from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China who may have different impressions or attitudes towards the protesters in the anti-extradition bill movement. The access-free interactive website depicted a whole picture of the arrest and prosecution the protesters faced.
Most of the interviewees had concerns about confidentiality and wanted to be anonymous. It was a challenge for the storyteller. What we chose was to record their voices and merge their stories with words, figures, and graphics like an online Human Library.
Unlike the traditional practice, the project did not just focus on the personal experience of the interviewees which may be a bit biased, but tried to balance with a thorough explanation of the legal proceedings and supporting data. For instance, one interviewee had disclosed the verbal abuse of Hong Kong police. In order to show that was not a tip of the iceberg, our team had recorded all the complaints the counsel filed in the courts.
The impact of such a balanced and organized way to tell a story with both emotional elements and objective data would well convince the readers and challenge their prejudices.
The project is based on React.js and Webpack, using Sass as the CSS preprocessor. As a data-driven project, it chooses D3.js to create diagrams and infographics. The data is imported in the format of Json. The map layout is created with leaflet.js. Also, with the help of gsap, some infographics become animated and interactive.
What was the hardest part of this project?
Data Collection is the hardest part of the project. The process of acquiring data was full of hindrances. The project intended to give the readers a whole picture of how the protesters of Anti E-lab movement undergo legal proceedings and comprehensive analysis of the cases.
While the Hong Kong judiciary erases the court list within 2-3 days’ time. Firstly, we have to manually archive the documents on a daily basis in order to keep a tracking record. The information we needed for the project was scattered. There was no shortcut to gather the relevant information. What we did was to enter every single data from the court list and several media reports to build an all-inclusive database.
Moreover, the government refused to provide our team with certain figures, though the information was generally regarded as not sensitive. For example, more than half defendants were being charged with riot. But when and at what occasion were they being arrested? Unfortunately, there is no formal Archives Law in Hong Kong but only a non-binding ‘Code on the Access to Information’. Our journalist had once proceeded with an application; in the end, the officials still refused to disclose the information. Our team had to cross-check with all cases reported in the newspaper day by day to figure out the data we needed.
Hong Kong is now full of tension and distrust. Under such circumstances, it was extremely difficult to find interviewees than in the normal time. Most of the protesters had concerns about confidentiality even though they wanted their stories to be heard. Our journalist had been to different magistracies and contracted several protesters directly to search for a story that can represent a relatively comprehensive picture. The efforts our team had devoted to this project should be well recognized.
What can others learn from this project?
The project embodies what ‘never says never’ is. The team had made a great effort to break through the limitations. Data collection is never an easy task, especially in the times that the government is holding a hostile attitude towards the media. What we can choose was either to pick the incomplete or even biased information from the officials or to find another way to develop our own database to convey a comprehensive angle of view. We journalists shall never give up on asking more and more details even if the path is much more difficult.
Another breakthrough is to turn the crisis into opportunity. When the interviewees rejected to disclose their identities, it was extremely hard to tell a good story with only texts and images. We then made use of sound as an impressive medium, in a way to balance the concern of confidentiality but still iIndulge the readers with the personal experience of the interviewees.
The skills may not be innovative for other journalists but the attitude to think out of-the-box is the spirit which the industry is looking for.