Prominent columnist suspended following HK independence piece

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) expresses concern over alleged self-censoring by the Hong Kong Economic Journal (HKEJ) after prominent columnist Dr. Joseph Lian wrote an article about Hong Kong Independence on July 25, 2016. The IFJ demands an immediate explanation from HKEJ regarding Dr Lian’s subsequent suspension from the HKEJ.

On July 29, Dr. Lain reported that he received a suspension notice from Alice Kwok Yim Ming, the editor-in-chief of the HKEJ. The suspension, which took effect on August 1 was claimed to be in response to a content revamp of the opinion page. However, this is not the first time that “restructuring of page content” has been used by the HKEJ editor as an excuse for suspension, following the Occupy Movement in 2014. Following the movement, veteran columnist, Edward Chin, was asked to stop writing after he openly supported the Occupy Movement. 

On July 31, Dr Lian wrote an open letter in which he admitted that the management of HKEJ had told him that his column fee would be cut by 60 percent due to financial difficulties in March. Lian said he “didn’t mind and was willing to go through the good times and bad times with HKEJ”.  Lian went further, saying that he had written article on the July 25 Jurisprudential Hong Kong Independence in which he was sympathetic towards students since the Occupy Movement and expressed that it would be safer for advocates to have a legal basis for advocacy. This article triggered the suspension notice.

The topic of Hong Kong independence has become a ‘forbidden’ topic for those who wish to run for election in the Hong Kong Legislative Council in September. Six locals have already been barred from running in the elections because they did not support the Basic Law, which dictates Hong Kong as part of China. Although the additional requirement and the banning of candidates has become a hot topic, the Hong Kong Government and Central Government of China have repeatedly said that Hong Kong independence violates the Basic Law.

On August 1, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate of China posted a warning video on its official website, which emphasised the intolerance to any kind of independence such as in Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang or Taiwan.

Dr Lian, is a veteran columnist and media personnel in Hong Kong, having served as the editor-in-chief at HKEJ, a full-time member of the Central Policy Unite, a Hong Kong Government think-tank. He is also not immune to controversy, having faced legal threats from the chief executive of Hong Kong, Leung Chun Yin, following an article written in 2012. 

The IFJ Asia Pacific Office said: “The media has a responsibility to advocate and defend freedom of expression as long without restriction. We all understand a developed society is based on different ideas and debate instead of based on only one voice.”

We urge the Alice Kwok, the HKEJ editor-in-chief, to provide an explanation behind the suspension of Dr Lian, and the changes to his column.  

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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