By: Margaret Wong, Associated Press Writer
(AP) A Hong Kong newspaper sought Wednesday to revoke a search warrant used by anti-graft officials to seize documents and computer files from its office, and demanded that the confiscated items be returned.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption, or ICAC, drew international condemnation after raiding seven newspapers that published the name of a protected witness over the weekend.
Lawyers for the Sing Tao Daily submitted documents to the High Court, seeking to annul a search warrant and demanding the commission disclose the document used to apply for the warrant, according to a newspaper spokesman who would not give his name.
“We want to see what rights the ICAC has under the law, and whether its actions are legal and reasonable,” said Ho Man-kei, a lawyer for Sing Tao, in comments broadcast by Hong Kong network Cable TV.
On Tuesday, the U.S. government voiced concerns over press freedom in Hong Kong and urged the ICAC to carry out its investigation into the naming of the witness “in a lawful and appropriate manner.”
“Our position would be to urge that Hong Kong’s civil liberties, including its press freedoms, be protected, as guaranteed,” State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said in Washington.
A Chinese official here criticized the State Department’s comments as improper meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs.
Hong Kong officials have insisted press freedoms were not at risk. But Hong Kong newspapers as well as local and international media watchdog groups have charged that officials are intimidating journalists at a time when critics fear local freedoms are under threat from Beijing.
The Hong Kong government insists it will abide by the territory’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which has guaranteed Western-style civil liberties since Britain returned this former colony to China in July 1997.
The ICAC insisted that its action was justified and within the law.
“In conducting this investigation and searches, the ICAC has struck a balance between the freedom of the press and the administration of justice,” ICAC Acting Commissioner Daniel Li said Wednesday.
It is illegal in Hong Kong to identify protected witnesses except under special circumstances. In the case that led to the weekend raids, several newspapers ran stories alleging that a woman was being held by the ICAC against her will.
The ICAC entered newsrooms and searched computer files over the weekend, questioning reporters and raiding one journalist’s home. Six people, including two lawyers but no reporters, have been arrested over the disclosure of the woman’s identity.
The agency has declined to say whether the newspapers have violated any laws or will be prosecuted. Identifying a protected witness without lawful authority or reasonable cause carries up to 10 years in prison.