Hong Kong’s dwindling press freedom took another blow on April 12, when The Epoch Times’ printing plant was damaged by four intruders. The incident has led to widespread criticism, some directed at the pro-Beijing Hong Kong government.
“If the Hong Kong government has any credibility left, and wants to convince the world that HK is still a safe and stable society, it should conduct an immediate investigation and prosecute those responsible,” stated Miles Yu, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, in a statement to The Epoch Times.
The attack took place in the early hours on Monday, when four men wearing masks barged into the printing warehouse and began smashing equipment and computers with sledgehammers. They also tossed construction debris on equipment before leaving with a computer.
The intrusion lasted for about two minutes, but the damage the intruders inflicted has forced the Hong Kong Epoch Times edition to temporarily suspend distribution.
Hong Kong edition spokeswoman Cheryl Ng said the intrusion was characteristic of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), with the aim of silencing an independent media outlet. Several U.S. lawmakers also said they wouldn’t be surprised if the CCP was behind the attack.
The Monday attack was the second against the same facility in less than 18 months. In November 2019, four masked men set fire to two printing machines and printing paper. The perpetrators behind the arson attack are still at large.
“There is no freedom of the press in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is gone,” stated Robert Spalding, a former senior strategist in the Trump administration’s National Security Council and a retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general, in a statement to The Epoch Times in response to the Monday attack.
Hong Kong’s press freedom has been on a steady decline since 2013. According to the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), the city’s press freedom index hit a record low of 41.9 points for the year 2019, a drop from 49.4 in 2013. The drop was in part because of “local journalists becoming the targets of extralegal intimidation or physical violence when reporting.”
There have been many incidences of violence against journalists covering the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, which started in June 2019 when millions took to the streets in protest against an extradition bill. For instance, the HKJA released a statement saying that the police failed to “fairly enforc[e] the law” to apprehend individuals attacking journalists covering protests in Hong Kong on Sept. 15, 2019.
Beijing’s imposition of a draconian national security law on the China-ruled city has further eroded press freedom. On Oct. 8, 2020, Sarah Cook, China analyst at Freedom House, warned that “independent journalists face increasing risks” due to recent events in Hong Kong, including when 200 police officers raided Hong Kong outlet Apple Daily’s newsroom.
On Tuesday, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) in Hong Kong issued a statement condemning the attack while calling for the “perpetrators to be brought swiftly to justice.”
“The FCC insists that media should be able [to] operate freely without fear of violence in Hong Kong regardless of their political stance.”
Also on April 12, the HKJA released a separate statement condemning the attack on the printing plant. It also called on the Hong Kong police to “solemnly investigate” the case.
“The association strongly condemns acts of violence to maliciously target and intimidate the Hong Kong edition of The Epoch Times and all other journalists,” stated the Hong Kong Internet Journalist Association in a Facebook statement on Monday.
It added that journalists’ working environment in Hong Kong has not improved but worsened since the HJKA statement in September 2019.
Since the Monday attack, several Hongkongers have spoken to the Hong Kong bureau of The Epoch Times in support of the newspaper.
Current affairs commentator Gordon Poon applauded The Epoch Times for its objective reporting throughout years of social movements in Hong Kong.
Koo Sze-yiu, a veteran pro-democracy activist, said that it was the CCP’s fear of The Epoch Times—which he said is a global media that often exposes the communist regime’s “ugly face”—that has driven Beijing to sabotage the newspaper’s operations.
The Epoch Times, one of the few independent media outlets in Hong Kong, is known for its uncensored coverage of China, including political infighting within the CCP and the regime’s human rights violations against ethnic minorities and religious groups.
The Monday attack is the fifth time that the printing house has been vandalized since it was established in 2006. In February that year, thugs broke into the warehouse and damaged the newly purchased equipment, which was valued at more than HK$1 million ($128,660).
Hong Kong businessman Herbert Chow urged locals to support The Epoch Times by subscribing to the paper.