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HONG KONG: Hong Kong journalists ran a petition in newspapers on Monday urging the city's Beijing-backed leader to withdraw a proposed law which they said would infringe press freedom.

Local and foreign journalists have slammed a government plan to restrict access to information about company directors, after such details were used in a series of investigative reports to expose the wealth of Chinese officials.

The petition, which took the form of a full-page advertisement headlined “Secrecy breeds corruption”, was published in five local dailies and signed by nearly 1,800 reporters, journalism professors and students who urged the government to drop the plan.

“Freedom of the press and free flow of information is a cornerstone of Hong Kong's success,” the petition read.

It called on the city leader Leung Chun-ying to “withdraw this retrogressive regulation which grossly impinges on freedom and openness, and stop pushing for this heinous law to limit press freedom”.

The former British colony, which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, maintains a semi-autonomous status with guarantees of civil liberties -- including press freedom -- not seen in mainland China.

Under the proposal, corporate directors could apply to have their residential address and full identity card or passport numbers blocked from public view -- a bid the government said was meant to protect their privacy.

But the plan has sparked an uproar among journalists as it comes amid concerns over Beijing's meddling in local affairs and after a number of reports focusing on the wealth and assets of China's ruling elite grabbed headlines.

Financial newswire Bloomberg has said it used Hong Kong and Chinese identity card numbers from corporate filings to chart business ties and a list of investments made by the extended family of China's incoming president Xi Jinping in a report published in June last year.

The New York Times also said it used such information from Hong Kong over a story in October that showed outgoing premier Wen Jiabao's relatives had control of assets worth at least $2.7 billion, a report Beijing branded as a smear.

A large number of Chinese companies are listed in Hong Kong, a financial hub that acts as a gateway for international firms seeking to tap the booming Chinese market.

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