ICAC search of newspapers 'legal and proper'
The Operations Review Committee in Hong Kong said Wednesday the search of seven newspapers by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) last Saturday was totally legal and proper.
The committee, appointed by the chief executive to monitor the ICAC's operation, made this conclusion after a two-day special meeting.
Andrew Chuang Siu-leung, the committee chairman, told the press that "having reviewed the material presented by the commission in light of public concerns and after detailed questioning, discussion and consideration of the material, the majority of the committee members were satisfied that the action taken was legal and proper in all circumstances."
He pledged that the committee would continue to monitor the progress of the ICAC investigation according to its terms of reference.
Defending the ICAC actions, Daniel Li Ming-chak, acting ICAC commissioner, stressed that the commission respected press freedom and never intended to damage it, but it had the statutory duty to investigate serious crimes.
"In conducting this investigation and searches, the ICAC has struck a balance between the freedom of the press and the administration of justice. And all actions have been conducted in accordance with the law," he said.
Li said the ICAC had arranged to meet with several news industry associations to discuss the issues concerned. But he refused to reveal more details of the case as legal proceedings have already started.
Starting the legal action yesterday was Sing Tao Daily, which filed a writ with the court to seek to revoke the ICAC's search warrant and request to see a copy of the affidavit the anti-graft body presented to the court when applying for the warrant.
"We want to see whether the searches were legal and reasonable," said the lawyer representing Sing Tao Daily. According to legal practice, once the writ has been filed, the ICAC must continue to leave the evidence taken from the newsrooms sealed until the court has made its ruling. The court will have a hearing on Monday.
The ICAC said that the evidence taken from Sing Tao Daily would continue to be sealed, but those of the other six newspapers will be opened today if they do not make their applications.
As to copies of the affidavit, the ICAC, citing public interest as the reason, refused to provide them to Sing Tao Daily and three other members of the print media - Apple Daily, Oriental Daily and the Sun - who have also requested one.
Meanwhile, a Beijing official in Hong Kong stressed yesterday that freedom of the press in the SAR has been under full protection by the Basic Law. Wang Rudeng, assistant director of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong, was responding to the comments by the deputy spokesman of the US Department of State Adam Ereli on the ICAC searches.
He pointed out that the Basic Law stipulates that Hong Kong people enjoy freedom of speech, of publication and of the press. But there is the need to strike a balance between press freedom and the rule of law.