Local pro-Beijing newspaper Sing Pao, known for its anonymous columns attacking Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and Bejiing’s Hong Kong Liaison Office, has said that its management have received “serious threats to personal safety.”

The newspaper issued an urgent statement on Tuesday evening, saying that individuals have recently posted leaflets threatening its management personnel outside their homes. It claimed that photographs on the leaflets were likely taken from the managers’ “Home Return Permits” – permits issued by the Chinese police allowing Hongkongers to travel into mainland China.

Sing Pao’s front page on September 9, 2016. File Photo: Wikicommons.

The newspaper also claimed that “a large number of suspicious individuals who look like mainlanders” have been loitering outside its offices, as well as following and photographing its managers since mid-February.

On Wednesday, Sing Pao published testimonies from several of its reporters, who claimed to have spotted men observing them outside restaurants in which they were dining and pretending to use their mobile phones, all whilst avoiding nearby police officers.

“When [the managers] attempted to approach the other party… the man quickly left in haste,” the newspaper wrote.

It added that its website fell victim to two cyber-attacks on February 18 and 19.

Political threats

Sing Pao suspected that the threats were a means of forcing the newspaper to stop publishing the anonymous commentary pieces: “This is a political threat. The incident happened in the lead up to Hong Kong’s chief executive election, and we suspect that the relevant individuals… intend to sway the result of the election.”

The columns have recently attacked candidate Carrie Lam, whom they claim represents the same faction and interests as Leung Chun-ying, the China Liaison Office – Beijing’s organ in Hong Kong, and Zhang Dejiang, the chairman of China’s legislature.

Sing Pao’s front page attacking Zhang Dejiang, October 3. Photo: Sing Pao.

Sing Pao has been publishing the anonymous commentaries since last August.

The paper said it was “most shocked” that its managers appear to have been threatened using photographs from their Chinese Home Return Permits.

“These photographs should only be possessed by issuing agencies like China Travel Service and the Ministry of Public Security,” it said. “We believe this is a case of ‘cross-border crime’.”

The newspaper said it has reported the incident to the police, and would “continue to make its voice heard.”

In response to enquiries, the police told HKFP that a woman lodged a report of “serious threats to her personal safety” on Sunday. On Tuesday, she also told the police that threatening leaflets containing photographs of her have been posted near her residence.

Sing Pao front page on September 12. Photo: Screenshot.

The police have categorised the incident as a request for police investigation, handled by the Kwun Tong regional crime unit.

“We will analyse and assess the information… and provide the necessary assistance and arrangements in order to guarantee her safety,” they added.

Press freedom

In a press release, pro-democracy legislator James To called on the police to give great concern to the matter, and launch an investigation immediately.

“The Basic Law states that Hongkongers enjoy freedom of speech,” he said. “Press freedom is absolutely a core value of Hong Kong and a cornerstone of its prosperity.”

“Journalists should not be subject to threats.”

Elson Tong

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.