The pro-Beijing Sing Pao Daily has claimed that its staff are being targeted after the Chinese-language paper ran numerous stories critical of China’s no. 3 official Zhang Dejiang, Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and the China Liaison Office, Beijing’s organ in the city.

It said threats against its staff have recently intensified and its employees sought police assistance four times within a week. The latest report filed to police was made in the early hours of Sunday, after the apartment door of a Sing Pao’s senior editor was smeared with red paint.

sing pao press freedom
Sing Pao’s front page on February 27, 2017. Photo: Sing Pao.

According to Sing Pao, the senior editor returned home under the protection of police officers. They found the front door of his house covered in red paint – often used as a symbolic warning. There were also photographs of the editor and posters of Sing Pao Director Gu Zhuoheng posted on the property’s walls.

The paper suspected someone hired local triad members to commit the act. It “strongly condemns” the unlawful acts and urged the police to arrest the culprits.

‘Campaign of terror’

Sing Pao said the threats were likely meant to silence the newspaper, which is known for its anonymous attacks against the political syndicate associated with senior official Zhang Dejiang, Leung Chun-ying and the Liaison Office.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association said in a statement on Sunday that it “strongly condemns the escalating violence and threats” against the paper.

“The campaign of terror, which has been going on for more than a week, is on the surface an outrageous attempt to silence the paper,” the association said.

Zhang Dejiang
Zhang Dejiang with Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. File Photo: GovHK.

“This is an outright challenge to law and order in Hong Kong as well as a threat to press freedom which is enshrined in the Basic Law.”

The association urged the authorities to set up security efforts to protect Sing Pao’s staff and make arrests.

A police spokesperson said the force was “very concerned” about the incidents. It said the Kowloon East Regional Crime Unit is following up on the case and will provide protection to the relevant persons.

Stalking and cyberattacks

Last week, the paper issued an urgent statement saying that individuals had 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 – travel documents issued by the Chinese authorities for Hongkongers to enter mainland China.

The paper also claimed that “a large number of suspicious individuals who look like mainlanders” had been loitering outside its offices and following its managers since mid-February.

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Sing Pao’s front page on December 28, 2016. Photo: Sing Pao.

It added that its website fell victim to two cyberattacks on February 18 and 19.

The paper suspected the threats were politically motivated and “intended to sway the result of the chief executive election.” It accused Leung and the China Liaison Office of being behind the attacks, which “aimed at suppressing dissent.”

Last month, Sing Pao reporters were denied for the first time access to a Lunar New Year dinner organised by the Liaison Office. The paper said its reporters were told by a receptionist: “You are not welcome to report on our event.”

Since last August, Sing Pao has been running anonymous commentaries attacking Zhang, Leung and the Liaison Office. It claimed that “corrupt officials” in Hong Kong would be stripped of power.

It also said that Leung would not be allowed to seek re-election, days before the chief executive made the announcement.

The move has led to speculation that Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing camp is fissured and that Chinese President Xi Jinping is prepared to eradicate a powerful sector within the Communist Party.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.