Four masked intruders set a fire in the printing warehouse of the Hong Kong edition of The Epoch Times in the early hours of Nov. 19, marking the fourth attack on the facility since its opening more than a decade ago. The attack is believed to be the latest effort by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to silence The Epoch Times.
A spokesperson for the Hong Kong edition, Cheryl Ng, said the incident had the hallmarks of CCP tactics, aimed at intimidating the outlet away from reporting on topics deemed sensitive to the regime.
As one of the few independent outlets in Hong Kong, The Epoch Times is known for covering internal factional politics within the CCP, as well as the regime’s suppression of freedoms both at home and abroad. It also has provided extensive independent coverage of the ongoing pro-democracy movement, now in its sixth month.
In response to the incident, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) called it “deeply disturbing,” adding that “any assault on the freedom of the press is an assault on the liberty that was promised to the people of Hong Kong.”
“It’s an assault to the basic function of a democracy,” he continued.
The manager of the printing press said the incident took place around 3:40 a.m at the facility located in the Tsuen Wan area, as the staff there were preparing to send newly printed papers to the stands.
Moments after staff at the press opened the factory door, however, four men dressed in black and wearing masks walked into the facility and pointed batons toward the workers, shouting in Chinese, “All of you, don’t move!”
Surveillance footage from the printing shop shows two of the men carrying batons similar to those used by Hong Kong police, while one of them carries newspapers and another brings in two containers filled with a flammable liquid, which he then pours onto the factory floor, around printing machines and newspapers.
One of the men then lights a fire, before the four intruders run away. The whole incident lasted about two minutes.
The fire caused the sprinkler system to turn on, and a staff member used a fire extinguisher to douse the flames. The staff then called the police and fire department, who arrived shortly afterward. The Tsuen Wan police bureau has launched an investigation.
Two printing machines, four rolls of printing paper, and several stacks of newspapers in the factory were damaged in the fire and by the sprinklers. The factory is still assessing the losses.
Press Freedom Attacked
Ng condemned the attack, calling it “a crime against press freedom in Hong Kong.” She said there’s reason to believe the CCP is behind the vandalism.
“The fact that two of the thugs dressed in black outfits [resembling those worn by] the protesters is also [viewed] by us as CCP tactics—trying to use people against people,” she said.
Ng said the outlet has been targeted for years due to its truthful reporting on China-related issues, including the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, which have developed into a mass movement against the perceived encroachment of the Chinese communist regime on the city’s autonomy.
The mass demonstrations began in June, in opposition to an extradition bill that would have allowed the Chinese regime to transfer individuals for trial in CCP-controlled courts in the mainland. The pro-democracy movement has since expanded to include demands for universal suffrage and police accountability.
Guo Jun, director of the Hong Kong edition, said the CCP was likely trying to frame the protesters for the intrusion, as protesters have accused the regime of working with local triads to assault and intimidate protesters and organizers.
Guo said they are “urgently repairing the printing factory” and that the publication of the next day’s paper wouldn’t be affected.
Surveillance footage shows 2 of the men dressed in all black carrying batons, while one of them holds newspapers, and another carries two containers containing a flammable liquid, which he poured onto the factory machines and newspapers. pic.twitter.com/CQe0jaAcRq
— The Epoch Times (@EpochTimes) November 19, 2019
Alan Leong, a former member of the city’s Legislative Council and the chairman of the Hong Kong Civic Party, called on the “evil thugs or the people behind them” to immediately stop what they were doing, or risk “becoming the public enemy of Hong Kong.”
“Hong Kong is not such a barbaric place, it’s a place where people convince others with reason,” he told the Hong Kong edition of The Epoch Times.
He credited the outlet for its extensive coverage of the protests, saying it is “defending the fourth pillar [the press]” amid the escalating tensions gripping the city. The Epoch Times has reported thoroughly on the protests in Hong Kong, giving the people of Hong Kong and the people of mainland China who visit the city a chance to know what is actually happening, while other local newspapers have bent to pressure from the CCP.
For instance, after the Hong Kong police laid siege to the campus of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, six Hong Kong newspapers on Nov. 12 ran front-page ads echoing Beijing’s rhetoric attacking the protesters. Only The Epoch Times and Apple Daily covered the escalation of police tactics on their front pages.
The reporting of the situation in Hong Kong is just the latest instance of The Epoch Times’ longstanding critical coverage of the CCP, to which the regime has responded with enmity.
Earlier this year, the newspaper was abruptly pulled from the shelves of 7-Eleven stores throughout the city, despite months left in the distribution contract. At the time, the East Asia bureau director of Reporters Without Borders, Cédric Alviani, said he couldn’t “see any reason but the pressure from the Chinese authorities for this withdrawal.”
In September 2006, a computer technician for the Hong Kong edition was kidnapped while he was visiting Zhuhai city in China’s southern Guangdong Province by local national security officers. They coerced him into signing a document stating he would act as a special agent for the CCP—as a condition of his release—with the mission of sabotaging the Hong Kong Epoch Times, according to Ng.
The arson incident is the fourth attack on the Hong Kong Epoch Times print shop. In February 2006, thugs broke into the shop and attempted to smash the presses. In October 2012, the door of the print shop was found damaged. In December 2012, seven men carrying multiple toolboxes appeared and began attempting to break through the gate. They fled after police were called.
Police investigations into these incidents haven’t yet resulted in arrests.