The police are investigating a series of threatening letters sent to Hong Kong Free Press staff. The anonymous mailings, received between August and September, have elicited criticism from press freedom watchdogs.
Hong Kong’s Criminal Investigation Department opened a case on Sunday, after a letter was sent to the UK home of the family of HKFP co-founder and chief editor Tom Grundy. The “warning” letter – received last Friday by air mail from Hong Kong – stated that Grundy should “tread carefully” and be wise about his actions and their consequences.
“[I]n politics, when one does not know ones enemies clearly, one could get hurt… I and many people would really regret if something happened to Tom in the next few years.”
The first letter, received on August 25, was addressed to current and former HKFP staff members accusing them of writing biased and negative stories about Hong Kong and China, and being “brainwashed” by foreigners.
Another listed 50 non-Chinese names, including HKFP contributors and democracy activists under the heading: “The Following Foreigners have been deemed Guilty of spreading hatred and dividing Hong Kong, China society.” It said “The Punishment shall be mandated as of January 2018. Expulsion from Chinese territory. A list will be sent to immigration staff.”
Another letter, sent to the home address of guest editor Tim Hamlett last week, included mock Interpol wanted leaflets, featuring “mugshots” of Grundy, Hamlett and columnist Kent Ewing. Other letters urged Grundy to close HKFP and leave Hong Kong for the UK.
The police retained all letters as evidence. HKFP has also involved lawyers, lawmakers and media watchdogs in light of the threats.
Criminal intimidation is a violation of section 24 of the Crimes Ordinance and carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine of HK$2,000.
Watchdogs urge action
Shirley Yam, of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, said they were appalled by the threats: “We call on the police to investigate it with its best endeavour. Journalists should be allowed to work without fear. The intimidation is real not only because of the threat to harm, but also the delivery of the letters to the home address of two journalists.”
Cédric Alviani, director of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia office called upon the authorities to act: “These threats against journalists and their families are intolerable and should not be left unaddressed.” A spokesperson for the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists echoed the comments: “Threats against journalists amount to a direct attack on freedom of the press, which until now has been a fundamental value in Hong Kong.”
The International Federation of Journalists said the letters were an effort to “intimidate and silence the staff at HKFP.” It added: “We stand in solidarity with our colleagues in Hong Kong as they continue to fight and advocate for press freedom and free speech.”
IT lawmaker Charles Mok said: “Such kind of intimidation is unacceptable and has no place in a supposedly civilised society like Hong Kong. If the government is serious about maintaining Hong Kong’s rule of law, our police and our justice department must pursue such kind of threats seriously and bring the perpetrators to justice.”