November 6, 2015 / 11:10 AM / in 2 years

Hong Kong court extends press gag in test case for freedoms

Thousands of pro-democracy protesters hold up yellow umbrellas, symbols of the Occupy Central movement, during a march in the streets to demand universal suffrage in Hong Kong February 1,2015. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

HONG KONG (Reuters) - A Hong Kong judge on Friday extended a press gag order in a case involving one of Asia’s top universities, renewing concerns about press freedom in the Chinese-controlled city in the wake of last year’s pro-democracy protests.

The injunction, initiated by the chairman of Hong Kong University’s governing council, bans media from reporting on the council’s closed-door meetings, after members voted in September not to promote a former law school dean, despite him having been the sole nominee for the post.

The decision was widely perceived as political interference. A student member of the council broke his confidentiality agreement to summarize what had been said in the meeting and by whom, and secret recordings of the meeting were leaked to a local broadcaster.

The court retained the press gag but said it only applied to council meetings between June 30 and the date of the injunction on Oct. 30. The gag order had previously applied to all council meetings.

The case is due to resume on November 24.

The Hong Kong Journalists’ Association condemned the injunction, saying it was a test case for Hong Kong’s freedoms.

“We hope the injunction order can be entirely removed,” HKJA chairwoman Sham Yee-lan said. “This is related to Hong Kong’s core values, the freedom of speech and freedom of press.”

For more than a century, Hong Kong University has served as a bastion of liberal education in the city that returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997, producing many of its top politicians, bureaucrats and lawyers.

Hong Kong’s constitution guarantees the financial enclave a high degree of autonomy denied in mainland China by its Communist leaders, including academic freedom, broad individual rights and an independent judiciary.

Liberals see the blocked appointment as part of a broad move to limit academic freedom at an institution whose students and academics played a big role in 79 days of protests last year that saw thousands take to the streets demanding full democracy.

Reporting by Clare Baldwin and Stella Tsang; Editing by Nick Macfie

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