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Prominent Hong Kong news editor fired in wake of 'Panama Papers' report

Media watchdogs say the firing is just the latest in Beijing's ongoing efforts to quash the free press in Hong Kong. The so-called "Panama Papers" have linked political insiders to offshore bank accounts.

Journalists outside the Ming Pao office building hold placards with the Chinese words Cannot comprehend

Journalists outside the Ming Pao office building hold placards with the Chinese words "Cannot comprehend"

Free press

advocates accuse Beijing of cracking down on press freedoms

in Hong Kong as a well-regarded editor was fired Wednesday morning after his newspaper ran a front page story connecting the Panama Papers to Chinese elite.

Ming Pao, an investigative newspaper, ran a story linking pro-Beijing actor Jackie Chan and high-profile Hong Kong politicians including Henry Tang, a former leadership candidate, to offshore bank accounts revealed in the Panama Papers.

A statement from the Ming Pao Staff Association cast doubt on the purported reason for firing the paper's No. 2 editor, Keung Kwok-yuen.

Keung's firing, under the guise of saving on operating costs, rang hollow across Hong Kong's media landscape.

The Ming Pao Staff Association issued a statement slamming the firing, expressing "extreme dissatisfaction and anger." The association suggested that Keung's dismissal was actually about "punishing staff members who have different opinions on editorial issues."

A hand holds up a sign that reads, we want press freedom.

People also rallied for press freedom in Hong Kong in 2014

Eight other journalist associations in Hong Kong joined in condemning the firing, and said 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," according to the union's statement.

Covering hot-button issues

Controversial issues covered by the paper

have included mass street protests calling for electoral reform opposing a national security law, and a proposed public school curriculum that was 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.

Keung's dismissal completes a sweeping out of the paper's top editors. Two years ago the paper's chief editor Kevin Lau was suddenly dismissed and replaced by Malaysian editor Chong Tien Siong, who is seen as a Beijing loyalist.

Lau, a veteran investigative journalist, was brutally attacked by two men in broad daylight a month after his dismissal.

The men attacked with a meat cleaver and subsequently fled to mainland China. But they were eventually arrested and convicted of theft and causing grievous bodily harm.

Both men were sentenced to 19-year prison terms. They claim they were paid to carry out the attack but have refused to name their patron.

Pro-democracy politicians, like Emily Lau, who chairs Hong Kong's Democratic Party, are also alarmed by Keung's firing.

"The decision (to sack Keung) has set all the alarm bells ringing," said Lau. "The whole profession is trembling like a leaf because of political and economic pressures."

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bik/jil (AP, AFP)

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