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Hong Kong media outlet suffers 'political retaliation'

A protester demanding the right to vote in the Chief Executive election, attends a news conference in Hong Kong, 27 February 2017
A protester demanding the right to vote in the Chief Executive election, attends a news conference in Hong Kong, 27 February 2017

REUTERS/Bobby Yip

This statement was originally published on ifj.org on 22 February 2017.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has expressed concern over claims by Sing Pao Daily News that it has suffered political retaliation since it published a series of articles attacking a top official in China and the Mainland's two chief agents in Hong Kong.

On February 21, 2017, Sing Pao released an urgent statement claiming that unidentified people began hanging around its offices in mid-February. They followed and took pictures of several senior managers, then started loitering near their homes. Posters featuring images of the managers, accompanied by malicious messages, were displayed on the streets. The statement said the managers had lodged complaints with the police, but did not disclose any details.

Sing Pao has also received countless harassing phone calls, emails and letters since August 2016, when it began publishing the series. The articles described the three officials as a gang and a scourge on Hong Kong. The officials are Zhang Dejiang, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee of China who is the top Mainland official responsible for Hong Kong and Macau affairs; Zhang Xiaoming, Director of the Chinese Liaison Office, which represents the Central Government in Hong Kong; and Leung Chun-Ying, Chief Executive of Hong Kong.

In the statement, Sing Pao described the intimidation as a "political threat" aimed at "manipulating the result of the (chief executive) election". The election is scheduled for March 26, 2017.

The IFJ has learned that the senior managers who were followed included the editor-in-chief. No life-threatening incidents have occurred, but the company has retained more security guards to protect staff. A staff member told the IFJ that Sing Pao websites have suffered continuous cyber harassment, with attacks occurring every seven minutes on average.

Sing Pao has been involved in several controversial incidents in the past 10 years. These include financial difficulties, changes being made unilaterally to a column by a contributor during the 2012 election for Hong Kong chief executive, and the alleged involvement of the company's chairperson in a court case on the Mainland linked to Ta Kung Pao, a state-owned, pro-Beijing newspaper in Hong Kong.

The IFJ said: "Although the case is full of uncertainties, it is totally unacceptable for anyone to try to suppress the media. Such actions are obviously a threat to press freedom."

We urge Steven Lo Wai-Chung, the Commissioner of the Hong Kong Police, to investigate the case promptly and to deploy enough manpower to protect the individuals being harassed, if necessary."

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