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HK leader takes legal action against paper over article
Publication Date : 08-02-2013
Leung Chun Ying has wielded legal cudgels against an allegedly defamatory news commentary that suggests that he has triad links - the first such action by a Hong Kong Chief Executive.
Leung's lawyers sent the Chinese-language Hong Kong Economic Journal (HKEJ) a letter last week demanding an apology and a retraction of the article, which they said was libellous.
It sparked complaints among the city's free-wheeling media that he is undermining their fiercely cherished freedoms - and drew comparisons to similar actions by Singapore leaders.
The article in question was published late last month. Written by veteran commentator Lian Yi Sheng, it was headlined "Trust issue is not important; more crucial are links to triad".
The commentary cited various charges, including unsubstantiated accusations made by Leung's friend-turned-foe "Dream Bear" Lew Mon Hung and said these are signs that Leung has links to triad gangs.
For instance, triad members have been seen paying cash to participants at a pro-Leung rally, he wrote. Leung's supporters have also been photographed having a meal with a known Shanghai mafia leader.
Leung's legal action came to light yesterday when HKEJ published a statement saying the issues raised by Lian are of "public interest". It said Lian had only suggested the possibility of the Chief Executive having triad links and not asserted it as fact.
But it concluded with an apology to readers "if the article had led them to draw unfair conclusions about Mr Leung".
Leung, in a statement yesterday, said: "I am aware of and accept the last paragraph of the notice issued by HKEJ."
He added: "I have all along respected freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
"Nevertheless, the article contains serious allegations which accused me of having relation with triad society. The matter has to be taken seriously."
Journalist groups, however, criticised Leung for taking a "sledgehammer approach" to the matter and raised concerns about increasing official pressure on the media. Some commentators also said he was learning from Singapore's former prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, noting that Lee had launched a number of lawsuits against publications such as the now-defunct Far Eastern Economic Review.
Hong Kong Journalists Association chairman Mak Yin Ting told The Straits Times Leung's action against what she termed "media criticism" was unprecedented for a Hong Kong chief executive, and "quite extraordinary".
"We believe everyone is entitled to human rights, including the right not to be defamed," she said. But legal action should be the last resort, she argued.
"In this case, the commentary highlighted a problematic trend of public interest, and a clarification with facts in an open and fair manner would have been the right thing to do."
Leung, however, shunned this "well-accepted measure" and instead "jumped to take legal action". "If he sent a letter, which HKEJ refused to print, then legal action would have been more acceptable."
Chan King Cheung, chief editor of HKEJ, said the paper would not retract the article because the issues it discussed are in the public interest.