Hong Kong police offer protection to newspaper staff after ‘gagging threat’ ahead of leadership election

Media organisation critical of chief executive complains of suspicious people lurking near office and employees being stalked

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 10:39pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 10:53pm

Police are offering protection to senior staff of the Chinese-language Sing Pao Daily News after receiving complaints of suspicious people hanging around the building and stalking employees.

The newspaper, whose chairman Gu Zhuoheng is allegedly a wanted man in mainland China, labelled the case a “political threat” by “some relevant people” to gag the newspaper from publishing critical articles so that they can “manipulate the result of the [chief executive] election”.

In a statement on Tuesday the newspaper said: “Since mid-February, there were suddenly a large group of suspicious people – who appeared to be mainlanders – hanging around outside the building of the newspaper as well as the homes of some senior staff members.”

Among those shadowed was chief editor Lau Mei-yee, the Post has learned. A police source said Lau had filed a report on Sunday about threats to her personal safety and she had also called on behalf of the newspaper.

A picture of at least one staff member had appeared in a “threatening” bill posted near an employee’s home and the newspaper believed the photo was cropped from their home return permit, the travel document that enables Hong Kong residents to travel to mainland China.

Gu issued a statement condemning “the use of uncivilised means against a media organisation” and questioned whether rule of law still existed in Hong Kong. He expressed fears for staff and urged the police to find the culprits as soon as possible.

“[The series of critical reports] might have affected those with established interests. It is suspected that someone is thus taking revenge [against the newspaper].”

Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun said Hong Kong’s press freedom was under threat and he urged the police to do their best to protect the safety of Sing Pao staff.

The semi-official China News Agency reported last year that Gu was wanted by mainland law enforcement authorities in connection with suspected illegal deposit-taking involving 130 million yuan (HK$146 million).

Gu had been staying overseas since, it was reported. Gu had issued statements to deny the reports.

It is understood that Hong Kong police have stepped up their investigations after receiving reports from the newspaper management two times in the past few days.

A police source said Lau had provided new information on Tuesday when she said leaflets containing her photo and smearing her were found near her home.

Kwun Tong district crime squad is investigating but no arrests have been made.

The normally pro-establishment newspaper raised eyebrows last August when it began running critical articles about Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong.

It stepped up its campaign recently ahead of the election next month to pick a new leader for the city, accusing the liaison office of interfering in Hong Kong’s internal affairs and attacking the office’s perceived support for the city’s former No 2 official, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

A Sing Pao reporter was denied entry to cover a liaison office spring reception last month.

Some critics believe the incident is the result of fissures within the Beijing leadership.