Hong Kong police have closed an investigation into a baseball bat attack on a reporter who works for a newspaper linked to a spiritual group banned in China, with no one facing charges.

It was the sixth time police had failed to bring charges over incidents including attacks on the printing press and office of The Epoch Times.

Sarah leung zhen epoch times attack
Leung Zhen suffered bruising on her thighs after the drive-by attack. Photo: The Epoch Times

The Epoch Times, a newspaper headquartered in New York, reported last week that its reporter in Hong Kong Leung Zhen had received a letter from police telling her they could not pursue the case without further evidence.

Leung said she had given the police photos of her injuries and the car licence plate of the vehicle the suspect boarded following the attack. At least one eyewitness also gave testimony to the police immediately afterwards.

Leung was attacked for about a minute in May by a man wielding the bat in a drive-by attack, according to an eyewitness who spoke to the newspaper. She suffered bruising to her legs and was taken to hospital. The assailant returned to his vehicle and sped off.

Leung Zhen and a letter from the police announcing the case was closed.
Leung Zhen (left) and a letter she received from the police announcing the case was closed. Photo: Supplied/HKFP Remix.

The Epoch Times is closely associated with Falun Gong, a spiritual group banned in China. The paper is staunchly critical of the communist government, often alleging that its followers were tortured by Chinese authorities.

Leung, who is also head of the Hong Kong Association of Falun Dafa, previously accused the Chinese Communist Party of orchestrating the attack.

“They [police] told me right after the attack that the decision to prosecute is not in their hands. I thought, this had just happened, are you saying this to try to shirk responsibility?” she told HKFP on Wednesday.

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“As a citizen, I reported a crime that happened in broad daylight,” she said. “Where is the law in Hong Kong? Very few reporters get attacked in Hong Kong, and the first thing you [police] do is not to investigate diligently, but instead to tell me that… whether to prosecute is not your decision to take.”

“I felt they had already concluded the case then,” she said. “Police need to explain this.”

Leung said officers told her informally that they had arrested a man in Yuen Long in connection with the attack, but there was not enough evidence to press charges.

Six attacks, zero prosecution

It was the sixth time that staff or premises had been attacked since the paper began printing in Hong Kong in 2005, but no one has been brought to justice.

In April, about two weeks before Leung was beaten up, the newspaper’s printing press in Tsuen Wan was damaged by four masked men wielding sledgehammers and knives. In November 2019, the printing facility was set on fire by a group of masked men armed with batons.

DateIncidentPolice unit in ChargeProsecution
May 11, 2021Epoch Times Hong Kong reporter Leung Zhen was attacked with a baseball bat. The incident was witnessed by a bystander.District Anti-Triad Section of the Kowloon City DistrictOne arrest; insufficient evidence to prosecute
April 12, 2021 The Epoch Times’ printing facility in Tsuen Wan was damaged with sledgehammers by four masked men wielding knives.Tsuen Wan District Anti-Triad SquadNo arrest nor prosecution
November 19, 2019The Epoch Times’ printing facility in Tsuen Wan was set on fire by three masked men with batons. The incident was captured by surveillance cameras. District Investigation Team 8 of Tsuen Wan DistrictNo arrest nor prosecution
May 30, 2013Three men wearing caps damaged the newspaper printing facility’s office glass door and passcode lock with a sledgehammer. District Investigation Team 8 of Tsuen Wan DistrictNo arrest nor prosecution
February 23, 2013 The newspaper’s employees saw from surveillance footage that three masked men attempted to break into the printing facility, damaging the premises’ gate.District Investigation Team 5 of Tsuen Wan DistrictNo arrest nor prosecution
February 28, 2006The glass door to the Epoch Times office in Tsuen Wan was damaged by men with sledgehammers.Tsuen Wan District Crime Squad Team 1No arrest nor prosecution

The attacks began about two weeks after the newspaper opened its printing press in the city. On February 28, 2006, the glass door of Tsuen Wan office was smashed by men with sledgehammers, it reported at the time. Then in 2013, the gate to the premises was damaged following an unsuccessful break-in captured by surveillance cameras. Merely three months later, its glass door as well as a passcode lock were again smashed by masked men, according to news reports at the time.

Police were called in all six of the incidents but no one was ever prosecuted.

In response to HKFP’s enquiries, police said Leung’s attack was classified as a case of assault causing actual bodily harm, and a man was arrested afterwards: “After in-depth investigation, there was insufficient evidence for any prosecution action.”

Police said no arrests were ever made following all of the incidents in 2006, 2013, the arson in 2019 and the vandalism in April this year.

epoch times attack 2006 incident
The Epoch Time’s Tsuen Wan office glass door was smashed in March 2006. Police was called to the scene to investigate. Photo: Epoch Times.

Cedric Alviani, the East Asia bureau head of press freedom group Reporters Without Borders, urged Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to take action to prevent physical attacks against journalists. “But of course, it is unlikely to happen, considering the consistent policy of Carrie Lam against independent media in Hong Kong,” he said.

“How can the justice in Hong Kong say there is not sufficient evidence for a prosecution?” he said. “Hong Kong is a big city. Hong Kong is not an empty place, there’s a lot of witnesses, there’s a lot of video cameras. It is not impossible for police to find the perpetrators if they are looking for them.”

“Unfortunately this happens everywhere where the rule of law is not being respected,” Alviani told HKFP.

Correction 15:12: A previous version of this story misstated the date of one of the attacks as May 2, 2021. It should be May 11, 2021.

Update 9.11.21: This story has been updated to reflect case details about the two incidents in 2013, provided by the police.

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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.