Hong Kong police have arrested two men suspected of conspiracy to commit criminal intimidation, in connection with online threats against broadcaster TVB, one of the city’s two television stations.

Superintendent Wilson Tam of the Cyber Security and Technology Bureau of the police.
Superintendent Wilson Tam of the Cyber Security and Technology Bureau of the police. Photo: HK Police screenshot via Facebook.

The men, aged 18 and 26, were arrested on Wednesday in Sham Shui Po and Ma On Shan respectively, police told a press briefing on Thursday. They are suspected of a range of offences including conspiracy to commit criminal intimidation, inciting illegal assembly, inciting wounding with intent, and inciting others to inflict grievous bodily harm.

“[They] continuously and widely disseminated a large amount of messages through social media groups and pages, intending to smear the media organisation, and also to use threatening means to pressure different advertisers into stopping advertising with this media. [Their] goal is to cause reputational and financial damage,” said Superintendent Wilson Tam of the Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau.

They also posted messages inciting others to attend illegal assemblies and to commit violence against employees of the media organisation, police officers and their families, Tam said.

The social media group allegedly operated by the pair appeared in May 2020 and has made over 2,000 online posts that targeted over 100 advertisers who partnered with the media outlet. Police said they took action based on reviewing these messages as a whole, and not just at specific words or expressions.

TVB boycott threat
A Facebook group campaigning for people to boycott TVB. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Police declined to identify the media company or the social media organisation involved.

Targeting TVB

However television broadcaster TVB reported that it was the target. It said the two men were arrested in connection with a group on Facebook that called for leaving “angry” emojis, critical comments, or comments threatening boycotts on the social media pages of the broadcaster and its advertisers.

TVB was seen by pro-democracy activists as sympathetic to the government and Beijing during the protests that gripped the city in 2019. It says its coverage was impartial.

TVB. File photo: inmediahk.net by CC 2.0.

The individuals made “unreasonable” and “indiscriminate attacks” threatening reputational or material damage to the media’s artists and partners, Tam said. Police have seized several mobile phones, tablets and computers as evidence while the investigation continues.

The cybercrime bureau made similar arrests in May in connection with threats against the same media outlet, Tam said. The people detained in May were charged on Thursday with inciting criminal damage.

Conspiracy to commit criminal intimidation is punishable by up to five years in prison.

“Hong Kong has faced many storms in recent years. People have together overcome obstacles one after another, but criminals have continued to incite illegal activities online without remorse. Such behaviour once again attempts to destroy Hong Kong’s firm foundation for rule of law and the community’s stability, Tam said. “This is appalling.”

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.