A Hong Kong court has terminated a defamation case filed by former chief executive Leung Chun-ying against defunct online outlet Stand News and ex-university professor Chung Kim-wah after Leung accepted Chung’s clarification and HK$100,000 in settlement.
Leung launched the legal action in August 2018, demanding an apology, damages and the withdrawal of an op-ed penned by Chung and published on Stand News earlier that month.
The former leader of Hong Kong said the commentary in question made “a number of unfounded allegations that a close relationship existed between Mr Leung and the triad society or the underworld.”
The defamation trial was originally slated to start on August 7 and last for 15 days. But Judge Queeny Au-Yeung granted a permanent stay of proceedings on Monday, local media reported.
Barrister Queenie Lau, representing Leung who was not present, applied for the defamation case to be suspended indefinitely during Monday’s hearing. Lau said Chung had already issued a clarification, announced the withdrawal of the op-ed and paid a HK$100,000 settlement to her client.
Judge Au-Yeung, however, said it was better to terminate the case instead of suspending it indefinitely, because all directors of Stand News’ parent company had already resigned and the outlet had never appeared at any hearings related to the case.
The judge added that the outlet’s former chief editor, Chung Pui-kuen, who doubled as one of its directors, had stepped down in October 2021 after providing a witness statement for the defamation case. Another director, Tony Tsoi, had left the city and was wanted by the Hong Kong police.
Au-Yeung then cancelled the scheduled trial and made no court fee orders.
Stand News’ parent firm, Best Pencil Limited, Chung Pui-kuen, and former acting chief editor Patrick Lam are currently undergoing a separate trial over their alleged conspiracy to publish seditious publications.
The digital news outlet ceased operations and deleted its website in December 2021 after its newsroom was raided by over 200 national security police officers.
Advocacy groups, the UN, and a number of Western countries criticised the arrests as a sign of declining media freedoms, while now-Chief Executive John Lee condemned “bad apples” who “polluted” press freedom following the raids.
Chung Kim-wah’s clarifications
Chung Kim-wah, who formerly worked as an assistant professor at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the deputy chief executive of Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, published his clarifications on Facebook on March 5.
The former professor wrote that his op-ed could have misled readers into thinking that officials linked to Leung had attended a dinner with alleged triad members, and that Leung was related to triads or their members.
In February 2012, East Week exposed that core members of Leung’s chief executive election campaign, including Fanny Law and Lew Mon-hung, went to a dinner where at least two alleged triad members were also present. Lew later told local media that the triad members were “uninvited guests.”
Chung Kim-wah said his article misstated that the dinner occurred after Leung won the 2012 chief executive election and that Leung’s administration had “remained silent” after a violent incident broke out in Tin Shui Wai on August 11, 2013.
During the incident, a member of pro-democracy party the League of Social Democrats was allegedly assaulted by supporters of Leung outside a community centre at Tin Shui Wai. Five were arrested over the occurrence.
“To demonstrate my sincerity, I hereby announce the withdrawal of the op-ed in question, guarantee that I will not make any commentaries again related to the February 2012 dinner and the August 2013 Tin Shui Wai violent incident by any means or on any platforms, and agree to pay Mr. Leung Chun-ying HK$100,000 in settlement,” Chung wrote.
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