Hong Kong Economic Journal editor refuses to back down over removal of columnist Joseph Lian

Former and serving staff call for explanation after columnist well known for his criticism of chief executive axed

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 August, 2016, 8:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 August, 2016, 9:20am

The management of a Chinese-language newspaper is refusing to budge over a decision to axe a veteran columnist last week.

A group of former and serving staff at the Hong Kong Economic Journal issued an open letter anonymously yesterday, condemning the decision to drop Joseph Lian Yi-zheng’s column, calling it a mission with “unspeakable motive” to “assist those in authority” to silence critics.

Lian was well known for his criticism of the Beijing and Leung Chun-ying governments.

His column was axed after Lian discussed the feasibility of “de jure Hong Kong independence” in his article published on July 25.

In a separate article for online media, Lian also claimed his controversial column might have “reached the fragile bottom line of the authorities”.

In a brief letter to Lian last week, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Alice Kwok Yim-ming, told him that his column would be suspended from August 1 because of a restructuring of the newspaper, including its opinion pages.

In the open letter, members of staff asked Kwok to explain the “true” reasons for axing the column and demanded she reverse the decision.

Kwok, referring to her letter to Lian, said on Monday: “We have explained our decision to Mr Lian. I have nothing further to say.”

There is no staff association or union at the Journal, and several reporters declined to comment.

A former editor-in-chief of the newspaper himself, Lian also stepped into controversy last year after he linked the emotional problems of the chief executive’s daughter, Leung Chai-yan, with the political situation in Hong Kong. He also compared her efforts to be independent from her family with Hong Kong’s larger fight for rights, and likened her parents to a repressive regime.

The chief executive wrote to the newspaper to complain and Lian eventually offered an apology.

The two had previously clashed in 2013, when Lian referred to Leung’s “possible links” to triads, which the chief executive called defamatory.

Founded in 1973, the Hong Kong Economic Journal is now owned by tycoon Richard Li Tzar-kai, who invested in the newspaper in 2006. Li is the younger son of Li Ka-shing, the city’s richest man.