Wong Siu-san and Lam Kwok-lap | Radio Free Asia
Long Zhenyang, a former editor of a Hong Kong newspaper backed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, has fled the city and is seeking asylum in the United States, citing political persecution after he showed support for the former British colony’s 2014 pro-democracy movement.
Long, 47, handed in his resignation as assistant editor-in-chief of the Commercial Daily, one of a trio of Beijing-backed newspapers in the Chinese-controlled territory, after being placed under “political measures” for more than a year.
He then traveled with his family without any media fanfare to the United States, where he is applying for political asylum.
Now, his former employer has launched a criminal investigation into his departure, accusing him of “leaking” confidential information about behind-the-scenes meetings with the governor of Guangdong province, Ma Xingrui.
“I have heard through various channels that [my former employers] are going to initiate a criminal investigation, accusing me of leaking secrets,” Long told RFA.
“This means they are saying that I disclosed details about the Hong Kong operations of a newspaper controlled by the Communist Party.”
Long said his secret filming of a meeting between the paper’s bosses and Ma Xingrui was among the allegations against him.
Long said his defection has likely rankled with the government, because it revealed how directly Beijing wields political control over some Hong Kong newspapers, including via its representative office in the former British colony.
“I was saying that the Central Government Liaison office was directly interfering [in the daily operation of the paper],” he said.
“From their point of view, all those things are secrets, even though they’re the worst-kept secrets. We are all supposed to act like we don’t know about them,” Long said.
Long said investigators had been to his daughter’s high school to talk to her teachers and some of the other parents, and will likely probe how he was able to get the funds raised by selling his apartment in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, out of China without raising suspicions.
“My daughter is at high school in Shenzhen, and they’ve even been there,” he said. “The Chinese Communist Party uses such methods, so if you leave behind close relatives, they’ll be in trouble.”
“I expect they’ll also be looking at how the money left the country,” he said. “Actually I took it out via Hong Kong; it was more than the maximum amount [for overseas transfers].”
After Long’s defection became apparent, the Commercial Daily issued a notice of termination of his post, dated Jan. 13.
An employee who answered the phone at the Commercial Daily’s personnel department said the paper is currently “dealing with” Long’s departure, but declined to comment further.
‘The wrong number’
Long’s former boss and Communist Party official Chen Yin said he had been let go due to absenteeism.
“You’ve got the wrong number; he’s no longer one of our people,” Chen said. “He was removed from the payroll, he resigned.”
“He was absent for a long time, said he was sick, but he was malingering,” Chen said. “It is totally legal to fire him under labor law; he’s just talking rubbish about seeking political asylum to capitalize on the whole thing.”
“It’s not very probable [that he was politically persecuted],” he said.
In an earlier interview, Long told RFA he had been planning his move for “a couple of years” owing to a worsening political climate in Hong Kong.
“Things that never used to happen in Hong Kong have started happening … including self-censorship by the Hong Kong media,” he said. “There is also increasing control, and increasingly open control, of the pro-Beijing media in Hong Kong.”
“I think it’s getting more and more dangerous for any media within the [ruling Chinese Communist Party] system to say anything critical of the government,” Long said.
He said he had been “marginalized” in the year before his departure, and told to do nothing.
“But they didn’t have any good reason for getting rid of me, so they just made me uncomfortable,” he said. “I was originally in charge of an in-depth reporting team … but later they just told me I wasn’t needed any more.”
He dated his treatment at work back to his publicly expressed support for the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement, and opposition to the forced removal of crosses from Christian churches in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang.
“I thought [the cross-removal campaign] was an ill-mannered attack on a religious group that hasn’t been seen in China since reforms and opening up began [in the 1980s],” he said.
“I got several warnings … after that, I wasn’t trusted any more.”
Long said he had to plan his departure carefully. “The controls on your passport are pretty strict, when it comes to leaving the country,” he told RFA.
He only later wrote a resignation letter in response to a request from the Commercial Daily, who needed some kind of formal documentation to show their bosses, he said.
“I am a democrat by nature, and a patriot, and I always wanted the best for my country,” he said. “In the process of trying to get there … I found God, I found Jesus … in them I found the answer to all of China’s problems.”
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