The State Department on April 13 denounced the assault by masked intruders on the printing facility of the Hong Kong edition of The Epoch Times and is urging officials in the city to investigate the incident.
“We condemn the attack on the Epoch Times’ printing plant and urge the Hong Kong authorities to thoroughly investigate and bring the perpetrators to justice,” a State Department spokesperson said.
“The United States is concerned by increased efforts to silence independent media and otherwise suppress freedom of expression, including the politically-motivated targeting of journalists. We are committed to standing up for press freedom and freer and wider access to information and ideas around the world. Freedom of expression, including for members of the press, is critical to transparency,” the spokesperson added.
On April 12, four masked men barged into the printing facility, smashing equipment with sledgehammers and spreading construction debris from a bag. The extensive damage on printing equipment, among them multiple computers and a transmitter, forced the Hong Kong edition to temporarily halt operations.
Press freedom in Hong Kong has been in steady decline in the years since the former British territory returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Once hailed a “beacon of freedom of expression,” the city’s ranking on the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index has plunged to 80th place, from 18th in 2002.
During the coverage of the pro-democracy movement that started around June 2019, at least 141 journalists reported being subject to verbal or physical violence by police, and dozens more recalled rough treatment by people with opposing viewpoints, according to a survey from the Hong Kong Journalist Association.
Beijing has drastically tightened its grip over the city in the past year, which critics say reflects its ambitions to control the territory, despite a promise to preserve Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms until 2047. Last year, it passed a broadly defined national security law that has been used to decimate the city’s once-thriving pro-democracy movement, while sweeping electoral reforms introduced in March ensure that Beijing loyalists rule the city.
In addition, authorities have prosecuted dozens of pro-democracy activists, including a prominent local newspaper publisher.
The attack on the printing press—the second on the facility in 18 months—took place just days before a court is set to announce the sentencing of key pro-democracy activists.
The timing of the sabotage is fueling suspicion that it was orchestrated to thwart the paper’s coverage of the event, Guo Jun, the director of the Hong Kong edition, said at an April 13 press conference.
In recent months, the Hong Kong paper’s journalists have described being followed, and printing press employees have seen unknown vehicles tailing them, according to Guo.
In 2019, the local franchise of a popular convenience store chain terminated a contract with the Hong Kong edition with little explanation. Cédric Alviani, East Asia bureau director at Reporters Without Borders, told The Epoch Times at the time that they “can’t see any reason but the pressure from the Chinese authorities for this withdrawal.”
“The freedom of press is an absolute requirement in any state that respects the rule of law,” said a spokesperson for Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, an international cross-party group of legislators, in a statement to The Epoch Times.
“If the Hong Kong authorities really were independent champions of their democratic system, they’d defend the Epoch Times,” the spokesperson added. “That they won’t tells you all you need to know: Hong Kong has slipped into the grips of an authoritarian communist party that will tolerate no criticism.”
Anders Corr, the publisher of the New York-based Journal of Political Risk, saw the attack as “a badge of honor for Epoch Times, albeit an expensive one.”
“It shows that they are producing hard-hitting journalism against the CCP at a time when exposing the CCP is critically important to freedom not only today, but into the foreseeable future,” he told The Epoch Times.
“The use of sledgehammers against a press shows what kind of thuggish future the world can look forward to if the CCP is not stopped,” he said, adding that “the time in which to do this without great global harm is growing short.”