Hong Kong political cartoon axed after government pressure

HONG KONG — A Hong Kong newspaper scrapped on Thursday a satirical cartoon after a decades-long run following a series of complaints by authorities, the cartoonist said, in what was seen as the latest blow to media freedom in the China-ruled city.

The Ming Pao newspaper said in a notice it would from Sunday scrap the comic strip by Wong Kei-kwan, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent political cartoonists, which has been running since 1983 and is famous for its satirical take on Hong Kong and Chinese politics and society.

Ming Pao did not elaborate on the decision and did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

Mr. Wong, who goes by the pen name Zunzi, said he had been told numerous times by Ming Pao of official complaints about his work, most recently this week.

“My sense is that the pressure is building up and it won’t stop without change,” the 67-year-old Mr. Wong, who sports a silver moustache and beard, told Reuters.

In April, Hong Kong’s security chief Chris Tang called one of the cartoons “misleading” after it depicted a man saying a recent ramp-up in Hong Kong security spending would mean more prisoners, more prisons, more prison guards, and more judges.

Mr. Wong appeared resigned to the end of his cartoon strip while noting “the situation continues to develop in a bad direction”.

“There are still many journalists who continue to speak out on different platforms, and comics are only one form,” he said.

“I will continue to speak out when I have the opportunity.”

The comic strip had been one of the few remaining spaces for unflinching criticism in the Hong Kong media following China’s imposition of a sweeping national security law in 2020 following months of pro-democracy protests in 2019.

Critics say media freedom in the former British colony is being eroded.

The city, once a base for international media covering not only China but the region, and home to a spirited domestic media, ranked 140 out of 180 regions in a global press freedom index compiled by media rights group Reporters without Borders. It ranked 73 in 2019.

Hong Kong authorities have repeatedly emphasized that media freedoms are respected and enshrined in law.

But police have raided and shut down several liberal media outlets including the Apple Daily newspaper and Stand News.

Public broadcaster RTHK has cut satirical shows and toned down its coverage after being criticized by pro-China politicians and officials. — Reuters