Hong Kong courts

Former Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying files libel suit against university professor and online media outlet

Former leader announces libel suit in Facebook post with links to solicitors’ letters addressed to two defendants: Polytechnic University assistant professor Chung Kim-wah and Best Pencil

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 August, 2018, 9:49pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 August, 2018, 2:01am

Former Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying is suing a university professor and a non-profit online media outlet for libel over a commentary rebutting his attack on the city’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club for hosting a speech by an independence activist.

The former leader announced his libel suit in a Facebook post with links to his solicitors’ letters addressed to the defendants – Polytechnic University assistant professor Chung Kim-wah and Best Pencil (Hong Kong), which operates online media portal Stand News.

Attached was a warning: “Those who disregard the truth to wound others should be legally sanctioned.”

But Stand News chief editor Chung Pui-kuen said: “Leung Chun-ying, as an influential Hong Kong political figure, should stop trying to silence commentators and the media by mounting lawsuits so easily.”

His response was echoed by the academic, who suggested Leung might be using him as an example to frighten other critics.

“Political figures have to face doubts and criticisms,” Chung Kim-wah said.

Leung’s latest legal action followed his solicitors’ letters to the defendants on August 14, three days after the academic published on Facebook an article that was subsequently uploaded to Stand News.

The article, which is still online, was written in response to Leung’s criticism of the FCC for defying objections by both the local and central governments and hosting a speech in its premises by independence advocate Andy Chan Ho-tin on August 14.

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Leung demanded the defendants meet a list of requirements within a week, which include retracting the article; paying damages and reimbursement for the legal costs incurred; and publishing an apology with the wording approved by him.

The letters also reminded the defendants that Leung treated the allegations raised in the article “seriously”, and that he had previously taken action when another newspaper published similar claims.

Leung is now demanding a court injunction to stop further publication by both defendants and their agents, on top of an unspecified sum of aggravated and exemplary damages, plus interest and costs for the alleged libel.

His lawyers did not provide details of the libel allegations in the two-page writ.

The editor of the targeted news portal said his lawyers would handle the case, while the academic involved said he would have to apply for legal aid or start a crowdfunding campaign to hire lawyers.

Chung Kim-wah is a prolific commentator on Stand News, writing on a wide range of current affairs, while his academic research focuses on social policy, housing, poverty and welfare for the elderly.

Lam Cheuk-ting, a Democratic Party lawmaker and former ICAC investigator, said he would liaise with other social groups to support the academic.

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“If Leung believes he is innocent, he should make public all the materials and records, instead of frequently sending lawyer letters or filing lawsuits,” Lam said.

“[Such actions have been] suppressing scholars, media and lawmakers who were simply making fair comments, damaging freedom of speech, and undermining social forces monitoring the powerful and the rich.”

The Hong Kong Journalists Association on Friday evening expressed its deep concern and regret over Leung’s action.

Political figures have to face doubts and criticisms
Chung Kim-wah, Polytechnic University

“We worry people holding official posts taking media outlets and writers of articles they carried to court, on the ground of defamation, will cause negative effects and consequences over the preservation of Hong Kong’s core values of diversity of views and free debate,” the association said in a statement.

In response, Leung hit back at the association, slamming it for in his words betraying the journalistic principles of comprehensiveness and accuracy.

“The defamation case is a matter of fact rather than a matter of divergent opinions,” Leung wrote in his Facebook post.

“The older generation of newsmen upheld the principle that opinions can be different but facts must be comprehensive and accurate. It seems the current generation is not following the same path any longer.”

Leung added that the media and its credibility would eventually feel the impact if groundless opinions were allowed to spread.

The former city leader has a history of taking on the media and his critics.

Last year he became the first chief executive to sue a lawmaker for defamation.