HONG KONG (AP) — Journalists' unions in Hong Kong said Thursday they were troubled by the dismissal of a veteran editor of a newspaper that published a report on the Panama Papers document leak revealing offshore business dealings of the rich and powerful, exposing new concerns about press freedoms in the semiautonomous Chinese territory.
A statement of concern from the Ming Pao Staff Association followed the dismissal of Keung Kwok-yuen, the paper's No. 2 editor, on Wednesday, purportedly to save operating costs.
Expressing "extreme dissatisfaction and anger," the association questioned whether the dismissal was actually about "punishing staff members who have different opinions on editorial issues."
On Wednesday, Ming Pao carried a front page report on Hong Kong politicians and businessmen named in documents leaked from a Panama law firm and published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which have been reported by newspapers around the world. The union didn't mention the Panama papers in the statement posted on its Facebook page.
Eight other Hong Kong journalist associations said in a joint statement that they were shocked by Keung's dismissal and that Ming Pao's management owed its readers and the public an explanation.
"Mr. Keung is a veteran journalist who has spearheaded the coverage of major controversies in Hong Kong in the past decades," the statement by the eight unions, including the Hong Kong Journalists Association, said. Hot-button issues covered by the paper have included mass street protests calling for electoral reform and opposing a national security law, and a proposed public school curriculum criticized as an attempt to boost support for the communist government in Beijing.
"If a journalist as moderate and professional as Mr. Keung cannot be tolerated, what does it say about the press freedom of Hong Kong? We are deeply disturbed and worried," the statement said.
Recent years have seen growing anxiety among many Hong Kong journalists and politicians about the growing influence of Beijing on the Hong Kong, which retained its own civil liberties when handed over from Britain in 1997. Media groups with close business and personal ties to Beijing have been accused of soft-pedaling their coverage of issues potentially embarrassing to China and its allies in Hong Kong.
In January 2014, Ming Pao's then chief editor Kevin Lau was abruptly dismissed, sparking fears that the newspaper's owners were moving to curb aggressive reporting on human rights and corruption in China.
A month later, he was attacked with a cleaver in a daylight attack. Two men who fled to mainland China subsequently received 19-year prison terms for theft and causing grievous bodily harm with intent. They said they had been paid to carry out the attack but refused to say by whom.