A long-time cartoonist at local newspaper Hong Kong Economic Journal (HKEJ) has announced his resignation on Tuesday after the paper controversially removed the column of veteran political commentator Joseph Lian.

“There are indeed lines that should not be crossed when speaking through a newspaper. If one crosses this line, [their] column is ‘restructured’ and cancelled immediately… this is no longer the HKEJ that I know,” said artist Yuen Chow-tai, who publishes under the name Yat Muk, in a public letter addressed to HKEJ’s editor-in-chief Alice Kwok Yim-ming.

(Left) Joseph Lian Yi-zheng, (middle) Alice Kwok Yim-ming, (right) Yat Muk. Photo: Stand News.

According to the letter, Yuen has been regularly contributing comic sketches to HKEJ for the past 28 years under a column titled “Public Affairs.”

“When there are more restrictions in the environment, and commentators need to be careful of what they can say, I can only choose to leave for my own freedom,” said the artist. He added that the cancellation of Lian’s column is the strongest message that HKEJ’s editorial department has sent to writers yet.

The artist also mentioned an incident in 2012 when one of his comic strips, a commentary on the mainland, was pulled out without explanation.

Upon accepting Yuen’s resignation, Kwok said that she is unaware of the incident mentioned by the artist as it happened before she started working at the newspaper in August 2013, according to Stand News.

The Hong Kong Economic Journal. Photo: Stand News

Previously, HKEJ announced that it would cancel the column of veteran political commentator Joseph Lian Yi-zhen starting on August 1. According to Kwok, the column’s suspension is part of an effort to restructure the newspaper.

The decision received criticism from the newspaper’s employees, who collectively issued a public letter demanding HKEJ revoke the cancellation of Lian’s column and explain the decision.

In recent years, Lian has become known for expressing sympathy towards the Hong Kong localist movement. Last October, he called the Hong Kong Government a “foreign regime” in an essay published in Hong Kong University magazine Undergrad.

In 2013, Kwok’s tenure as editor-in-chief began controversially with the resignation of columnist Yau Ching-yuen alongside three reporters that October.

Founded in 1973, the HKEJ is owned by tycoon Richard Li Tzar-kai, who invested in the newspaper in 2006.

Gene Lin

Gene Lin is a Journalism and Computer Science student at The University of Hong Kong. He worked as a reporter for the 'LIVE: Verified Updates' during the Occupy Central protests. He is also an editor at HKU's first English-language student paper, The Lion Post.