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Firing Stokes Press Freedom Fears in Hong Kong

FILE - A copy of Hong Kong-based newspaper Ming Pao (top L) is displayed at a convenience store in Hong Kong, Dec. 17, 2015.

The sudden firing of a highly-regarded newspaper editor in Hong Kong is drawing angry reaction and renewed fears over press freedom.

Keung Kwok-yuen, the top editor at the prestigious investigative newspaper Ming Pao, was fired Wednesday, raising concerns of increasing influence from China's communist government.

The firing took place shortly after the paper published a front-page story connecting prominent Hong Kong businessmen and politicians to new information coming from the Panama Papers, the documents that exposed how a Panamanian law firm helped some wealthy Chinese citizens funnel financial assets into tax havens.

The newspaper described Keung's dismissal as a staff reduction, but it did not prevent reactions ranging from fear to anger. The Ming Pao Staff Association, which represents the newspaper's employees, said members are "extremely angry and dissatisfied." The newspaper "is penalizing editorial personnel with different opinions," the association added.

"The whole [news] profession is trembling like a leaf because of political and economic pressures," said Emily Lau of Hong Kong's Democratic Party.

Reporters at the newspaper said Keung was fired by Malaysian chief editor Chong Tien Siong, a perceived pro-Beijing player who was hired two years ago to replace investigative journalist Kevin Lau. He was severely wounded after being stabbed in the street by two masked attackers.

In a news report released on Wednesday, an annual report issued by Reporters Without Borders said Hong Kong's press freedoms had dipped slightly in 2015 to 69th in the world.

Ming Pao was among the newspapers in a consortium that investigated documents linking offshore investments often used to avoid tax payments to wealthy people around the world.