Sunday, July 25, 2004

Hong Kong newspapers raided by government agency

On the front pages of leading Hong Kong newspapers today: raids on their offices carried out on Friday by an arm of the Hong Kong government.
(AP) - Anti-graft officials raided six Hong Kong newspaper offices over news reports that identified a protected witness, and media on Sunday accused authorities of threatening press freedom.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption said in a statement that its officers searched several newspapers' offices, seized some documents and talked to newspaper employees on Saturday, in relation to the corruption probe of a listed company.

The ICAC didn't name the newspapers.

But the South China Morning Post, the Apple Daily, the Oriental Daily News, the Sun and the Sing Tao Daily splashed details of the raids on their newsrooms across their front pages Sunday.

The Ta Kung Pao said it was also raided in a story on its back page.

Some condemned the operation as a threat to press freedom.

The Post said the ICAC raided the offices in response to local media reports that named a woman who was under the commission's witness protection program.

Identifying a protected witness without ``lawful authority or reasonable excuse'' is illegal and punishable by up to 10 years in prison under Hong Kong law.

The named witness was involved in a probe that's led to the arrests of six people, the reports said.

The ICAC said the six - including two lawyers and the chairman of a listed company - were arrested for alleged conspiracy to pervert the course of public justice, perjury and violation of witness protection laws.

The Oriental Daily News said 10 ICAC officers on Saturday searched its court reporters' desks and computers, and seized some documents. It said that they later searched its sister publication, the Sun, and that the two raids together lasted more than five hours.

The Apple Daily said the ICAC searched its office and the home of one of its reporters. The Post said the officers interviewed some of its reporters at its office on Saturday, and later asked them to go to the ICAC office, where they answered questions until late at night.

Some of the newspapers accused ICAC of disrupting their operations.

``Hong Kong's shame: ICAC infringes on press freedom,'' read a headline in the Oriental Daily News.

The ICAC was ``engaged in a massive overreaction,'' the South China Morning Post quoted its Editor-in-Chief David Armstrong as saying.

Hong Kong Journalists Association Chairwoman Cheung Ping-ling said the raids were unnecessary and harmed press freedom.

``They could have just invited the reporters involved to aid their investigation,'' Cheung said in comments broadcast by Hong Kong network Cable TV.

ICAC spokeswoman Valentina Chan declined immediate comment on the accusations Sunday.
I have no idea if the raids really have anything to do with cracking down on corruption: they may well. Hong Kong, like all other East Asian countries, suffers from systemic gangsterism with connections inside government, the police and most major industries - at a similar level to southern Italy. So there's plenty of corruption to investigate.
But given recent events in Hong Kong, particularly the resignations of three talk-show hosts following threats and last month's arson attack on pro-democracy politician Emily Lau, it's natural to see the hand of the mainland Chinese government in these raids. They are doing everything they can to stifle the massive pro-democracy movement ahead of elections in September, following the huge march on July 1st this year, the first anniversary of an equally huge march.

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