Axed radio host accuses Hong Kong government of censorship

HONG KONG (AFP) - An axed radio host on Thursday accused the Hong Kong government of suppressing free speech and orchestrating her sacking.

Ms Li Wei-ling, who is known for her biting comments against the Hong Kong government as well as Beijing, was fired from her role as commentator at Commercial Radio on Wednesday evening.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, she accused the city's Beijing-backed leader Leung Chun-ying of using his political influence to facilitate her sacking.

"Without reservation, 100 perc ent I reckon, this incident is the suppression of free speech and press freedom by the government of Leung Chun-ying," she said.

A spokesman for Mr Leung denied interfering with the press.

"The Chief Executive reiterates he personally and the government of Hong Kong respect and strive to protect the freedom of the press," he told AFP.

The spokesman added that Mr Leung had not discussed Ms Li or her position at Commercial Rado with anyone.

Ms Li had worked for the station for more than nine years.

She accused the broadcaster of giving in to official pressure, saying that its management became picky about content of her morning show, On A Clear Day, last year before transferring her to an evening show that attracts a smaller audience, months before her sacking.

Commercial Radio is privately-owned and its license is due to expire in 2016, according to local media reports.

A station's official, Mr Stephen Chan, denied the sacking of Ms Li was a tool for easing the red tape for a licence renewal.

Two international bodies advocating rights of journalists and censorship-free reporting warned on Wednesday that Hong Kong's press freedom could be eroding as Beijing, which took over the city's sovereignty from Britain in 1997, tries to control the city's press.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said media freedom in Hong Kong was currently "at a low point", citing self-censorship among reporters, financial and physical threats against the media and legislative steps that could hinder investigative reporting.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders also said Hong Kong's media independence "is now in jeopardy" as the world's-second largest economy flexes its muscles to stifle critical coverage.

The city of seven million is guaranteed the freedom of the press and freedom of speech, among other rights, under the deal struck by Beijing and London leading to the handover.

Ms Li has led radio campaigns in support for human rights activists and Chinese dissidents.

In 2004, she campaigned for the release of Hong Kong veteran reporter Ching Cheong, who was arrested in the mainland on spying charges. Mr Ching was released five years later.

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