HONG KONG—A series of violent attacks on Hong Kong media organizations, publishers, and people are aimed at suppressing freedom of expression in the city, especially when it comes to voices of dissent toward the Chinese regime, according to Hong Kong political observers. Many in the city suspect that the Chinese regime, and its security forces, are ultimately behind the attacks.
Serenade Woo, representative of the International Federation of Journalists in China and Hong Kong, said the attacks suggest the perpetrators want to “set back freedom of expression” and create a “chilling effect” on Hong Kong media.
Jimmy Lai, founder and chairman of Hong Kong’s largest publicly listed media company, Next Media, was the most recent target.
Lai and his publications are known to be critical of the Chinese Communist leadership, while supportive of the democratic cause in Hong Kong.
On the morning of June 19, a car rammed into and destroyed the front gate of Lai’s home. When police arrived at the scene, an axe and a machete were found in the driveway.
Given the approaching date of the annual July 1 pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong, many believe that Lai is being targeted for his publications’ outspoken support of the rally. Though held every year since the handover of Hong Kong territory to China on July 1, 1997, the march did not draw widespread public participation until 2003, when people protested the proposed Article 23 anti-subversion bill. At the time, Next Media’s Next Magazine and Apple Daily newspaper had with their bold headlines urged readers to take to the streets.
A senior executive at Apple Daily, who wished to remain anonymous, told Epoch Times ?that the paper has covered the upcoming July 1 march extensively, so he does not rule out the possibility that his boss has thus become the Chinese regime’s target for harassment.
Lai has not made any public statements regarding the attack on his home. When a reporter asked him as he was exiting a restaurant whether the attack was linked to his support for the July 1 march, Lai simply said that he didn’t know.
The senior executive Lai wants to remain low key, after years of harassment of this sort. In 2008, a man from mainland China was sentenced to prison for planning to assassinate Lai and Martin Lee Chu-ming, Lai’s friend and founder of the Democratic Party in Hong Kong. In 1993, Lai’s home and offices were attacked after Next Magazine published a piece on a local triad boss.
Earlier this month, owner of Hong Kong magazine iSun Affairs and television channel Sun TV, Chen Ping was assaulted by two men as he was getting into his car. He was hospitalized but only suffered minor injuries.
Chen said at the press conference: “I don’t think I’ve offended the mafia, but maybe the mafia-types were told what to do by certain other people. Maybe I offended a few people in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime.”
iSun Affairs frequently reports on issues that the Chinese regime disapproves of, such as their December 2012 cover story on self-immolations in Tibet, which featured a harrowing image of a self-immolating Tibetan.
On May 30, the front door of the Hong Kong Epoch Times printing shop was smashed in. Two men were caught on camera smashing the door with a hammer.
Many feel the attacks are linked to mainland Chinese political influence, and a sign of the regime’s suppression of freedoms in Hong Kong.
Shi Zangshan, a China analyst based in Washington DC, said that the recent violence is by no means a coincidence, especially since they target liberal media that are critical of the CCP regime. Shi compared the recent attacks to the leftist riots in Hong Kong during 1967, when pro-Communist leftists protested against British colonial rule with terrorist attacks and targeted members of the press who were anti-leftist.
“Under Leung Chun-ying’s rule, Hong Kong police have turned a blind eye to the practices undertaken by the criminal underworld. In fact, it is tantamount to encouraging Hong Kong’s politics to become mafia-like.”
Leung Yiu-chung, member of Hong Kong’s legislative body, the Legislative Council, said that the recent spate of violence serves as a warning. “It’s telling us that if your views are not the same as the government, or you are at odds with them, then you will be in serious trouble. They are using these violent acts as a means of intimidation.”
Last week, 11 pro-democracy groups held a press conference expressing their concern for freedom of expression in Hong Kong being under attack, in light of a recent incident when a man who showed his support for Falun Gong was beaten by several members of the Hong Kong Youth Care Association (HKYCA), a group that has ties to Beijing suggesting it is a Communist Party front organization. Falun Gong is a spiritual practice that is heavily persecuted in mainland China.
Mr. Chan had spoken up for Falun Gong when he saw members of HKYCA blocking the information booth Falun Gong practitioners had set up to tell passerby about the persecution in China. Mr. Chan was beaten repeatedly in the head by several men with folding stools, and needed to be hospitalized. Still recovering from his injuries at the press conference, Mr. Chan and the pro-democracy groups spoke out against the Hong Kong police’s failure to prosecute the attackers.
Research by Ariel Tian. Translation by Billy Xu and Frank Fang. Written in English by Annie Wu.