Tue, Jul 27, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Hong Kong media on the attack over newspaper raids

AP , HONG KONG

Hong Kong's justice secretary yesterday said raids by anti-graft agents on at least seven news-papers that named a protected witness were appropriate, while local media denounced the move as heavy-handed and a threat to press freedom.

Agents from the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) were acting within the law and under the anti-graft agency's "professional judgment," Justice Secretary Elsie Leung (梁愛詩) said in remarks aired on the government-owned radio station RTHK.

Officials have not said whether agents raided the newspapers to trace a leak in the agency or to investigate possible prosecution on charges of printing the name of a protected witness without proper cause or authorization -- a crime that carries a maximum 10 years in prison.

The raids were launched after the newspapers identified a woman in the agency's witness protection program who has been involved in a probe that led to the arrests of six people, including two lawyers.

Local newspapers slammed the raids yesterday, saying that the anti-graft commission took an unnecessarily heavy-handed approach.

The South China Morning Post, one of the papers raided, accused the ICAC of grandstanding to boost its visibility.

"It is a long time since it had a dazzling, high-profile case. When the opportunity arose for dramatic action that would reinstate its public profile, the commission seized it," the Post said in an editorial.

The newspapers said the ICAC interviewed staff and searched their offices and computers, and went to one reporter's home.

Another of the newspapers, the Hong Kong Economic Journal, quoted editor-in-chief Chan King-cheung (陳景祥) as saying the raids "put pressure on the future reporting work of frontline reporters."

Defending the raids, the anti-graft agency said on Sunday in a statement that the ability to protect witnesses is critical.

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