A Hong Kong newspaper that is critical of Beijing said Monday its printing presses were ransacked by a gang of men wielding sledgehammers.

The assault on the Epoch Times was captured on CCTV and comes as China oversees a sweeping crackdown against critics in Hong Kong following huge and often violent democracy protests in 2019.

Footage released by the paper showed four masked men storming into the printing plant in the early hours of Monday morning and smashing up equipment.

They are seen throwing concrete rubble into machinery as a terrified female staff member looked on, and in an accompanying report the Epoch Times said the gang threatened those inside with violence.

Photo: Epoch Times screenshot via YouTube.

“The whole process of violent criminal damage was very short, it was completed in around two minutes,” the paper wrote, adding the main printing console suffered the most damage. 

Hong Kong Police confirmed its organised crime unit had taken over the case and that no arrests had been made so far.

The Epoch Times is linked to the Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that is banned in mainland China and prosecuted by authorities there.

Photo: Epoch Times screenshot via YouTube.

The paper is printed in eight languages and publishes in 21 languages online, often penning scathing pieces about China’s government.

The media group became a staunch supporter of former US president Donald Trump.

While it is banned in China, the Falun Gong maintains a presence in semi-autonomous Hong Kong and practitioners give the Epoch Times out at street booths across the city.

In a statement, the Epoch Times said some of its booths had also suffered “harassment and vandalism” in recent days by unidentified assailants.

It said its printing plant was previously vandalised in November 2019, at the height of the pro-democracy protests that swept Hong Kong that year.

Photo: Epoch Times screenshot via YouTube.

“The Epoch Times Group condemns the attack and condemns the evil Chinese Communist force for damaging freedom and rule of law,” the paper said in its statement.

Violent attacks on the media in Hong Kong are rare but not unheard of.

The city remains a major Asian media hub with a vibrant local press and many international outlets hosting regional headquarters.

But it has slid down media freedom rankings in recent years as Beijing seeks to assert more control over the city’s restless population.

Pressure on the media has intensified in the aftermath of 2019’s democracy protests with wielding a new national security law to curb dissent and authorities pushing a campaign to ensure only “staunch patriots” run the city. 

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