Thousands of people who have shared the political column that Leung Chun-ying claims accuses him of having links with triads could be subject to defamatory charges if the chief executive decides to take the publisher to court, a legal expert suggested.
By yesterday evening, at least 5,767 Facebook users had shared Joseph Lian Yi-zheng's article in the Hong Kong Economic Journal as part of a campaign launched by Civic Party chairwoman Audrey Eu Yuet-mee.
She asked her supporters on Facebook to share the article and invite the chief executive to sue them for defamation.
Labour Party lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan endorsed the campaign and also distributed at least 700 copies of the article at the Lunar New Year fair in Victoria Park, asking supporters to make more copies and pass them on.
Lee, a legislator for New Territories West, said: "Press freedom is the core value of Hong Kong. Lian only expressed his views in an article; it is a very bad precedent for Leung to devise legal means to silence the dissenting voice. It will certainly have a chilling effect on press freedom and damage the core value of Hong Kong."
Eric Cheung Tat-ming, assistant law professor at the University of Hong Kong, suggested in a radio interview that if the chief executive did decide to take the matter to court, those who shared the commentary could be sued as well.
He also said that since Lian's article was only a commentary based on newspaper reports on remarks by former Leung supporter Lew Mon-hung, he "could not see any legal grounds or evidence to Leung's claim".
"Whether an article is defamatory should also be judged in its entirety, not by picking out one or two sentences [as Leung did]," Cheung added.
Among visitors to the Labour Party booth in Victoria Park, one civil engineer, who asked not to be named, said: "Free speech is a value that is highly treasured in Hong Kong. Leung needs a rethink on his move.
"If the government continues to interfere with the press, how can we get diverse and balanced views from the media?"
A Baptist University student, who also asked not to be identified, agreed, saying: "It is appalling for Leung to adopt legal means to silence the dissidents' voice. His autocratic approach only serves to give us the terrible impression that we are under the rule of the Communist Party."