Chief Executive CY Leung demands retraction of 'defamatory' article
Chief executive's lawyers call on HK newspaper to withdraw 'defamatory' article, but he sparks new storm over free speech and rights of press
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Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has demanded the retraction of a newspaper article which he claims accuses him of having links with triads.
His lawyers sent a letter to the chief editor of the Hong Kong Economic Journal last Friday.
The letter claimed a commentary piece published on January 29 and written by Joseph Lian Yi-zheng, a former member of the Central Policy Unit think tank, was defamatory.
The newspaper printed an apology on Thursday, but chief editor Chan King-cheung later insisted this was addressed to readers, not Leung, and said there would be no retraction.
Leung said he accepted the newspaper's apology. But he made no move to withdraw his lawyers' letter, despite calls from journalists, human rights activists and pan-democratic lawmakers who feared his action could undermine free speech.
Leung said in a statement: "I have all along respected freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Nevertheless, the article contains serious allegations which accused me of having relations with triad society. The matter has to be taken seriously."
Referring to the newspaper's apology, he added: "I am aware of and accept the last paragraph of the notice issued by HKEJ today."
The paragraph reads: "The management and editorial department of our newspaper, as well as the author of the [relevant] article, did not allege Mr Leung had had relations with triads. We apologise if the article prompted some readers to make unfair conclusions about Mr Leung and had caused any inconvenience."
In the article, Lian said his claims were derived in part from comments made by Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference delegate Lew Mon-hung's in iSun Affairs magazine.
Lew accused Leung of lying about the handling of the illegal structures row at his Peak homes.
But Lian also said in the article that people should cross-check the facts since Lew may have lied.
The Chief Executive's Office said it had nothing to add when asked if Leung would withdraw the lawyers' letter or take further legal action.
Chan said the letter asked them to retract the article and not to make such remarks again. It did not say if Leung might take further action should the paper ignore the requests.
Both Chan and Lian were surprised by Leung's actions.
Chan said: "I am very shocked and disappointed … Hong Kong has long cherished free speech. His action was very negative and set a bad precedent."
Chan reiterated that the newspaper's apology was to readers, not Leung. He added: "As to how he interprets it, it is out of our control. We will not withdraw the article."
Lian said: "It seems [Leung's] move was not very rational."
Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit called Leung's actions "politically unwise" and urged him to withdraw the letter.
And the chairman of the Hong Kong News Executives Association, Ronald Chiu Ying-chun, said "there would be political consequences" if leaders took legal action to silence attacks.
WHO SAID WHAT
I have all along respected freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Nevertheless, the article contains serious allegations which accused me of having relations with triad society. The matter has to be taken seriously.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying
The management and editorial department of our newspaper, as well as the author of the [relevant] article did not allege Mr Leung had had relations with triads. We apologise if the article prompted some readers to make unfair conclusions about Mr Leung and had caused any inconvenience.
Statement issued by editorial department of the Hong Kong Economic Journal