HK court limits gag order slammed as press attack

Hong Kong - Hong Kong court on Friday denied a sweeping gag order sought by Hong Kong University after a challenge from media and democracy advocates who described it as an attack on press freedom.

The prestigious HKU applied for an injunction against "persons unknown" to prevent the publication of content from all council meetings, after local media published leaked audio files from gatherings related to a controversial decision to not appoint a pro-democracy scholar as pro-vice chancellor.

The university's council, which has a number of members seen as pro-Beijing, voted against Johannes Chan taking the role in October, sparking protests over what activists said was political interference in the city's education system.

When local media published the audio from some of the meetings, HKU took out the injunction, which was challenged in court Friday by five parties, including The Apple Daily newspaper.

The injunction covered all past and future council meetings, but the judge rejected that order, saying instead that the gag could only cover meetings related to appointment of the pro-vice chancellor from June 30 to November 6.

"The original injunction was impossibly wide and really a gross interference with press freedoms," Civic Party chairwoman Audrey Eu, a former pro-democracy lawmaker told AFP at the High Court where the hearing was held.

A lawyer for the university, Clifford Smith, told the court that the injunction was not intended to "enter into a fight with the press" prompting a pointed rebuke from Martin Lee, a veteran pro-democracy activist.

"My learned friend said he didn't want a fight with the press, what else could it be?" said Lee.

Chan was a close colleague of pro-democracy leader Benny Tai, also an academic at HKU, who helped orchestrate last year's mass pro-democracy protests that brought parts of the semi-autonomous Chinese city to a standstill.

More than 2,000 students, professors and alumni gathered at the HKU campus for a silent march after Chan's appointment was rejected.