A reporter who filmed a stabbing murder-suicide involving Hong Kong police officers cannot leave the city and is now part of a “national security law investigation,” the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) reported Tuesday, increasing fears of a full crackdown on journalism in the city.
Following the 2019 anti-communist protests, the Beijing-controlled Hong Kong government has greatly expanded its police activities against journalists who reported fairly on the pro-democracy movement. The most dramatic police action against journalists at press time was the shutdown of the anti-communist newspaper Apple Daily in June, prompted by a raid featuring hundreds of officers on the newspaper’s headquarters, the freezing of its major assets, and the arrests of top editors and owner Jimmy Lai. Lai, who smuggled himself into Hong Kong as a youth fleeing communism, was a fixture at the 2019 protests and has vowed to continue opposing the Communist Party from prison.
The actions this week against the unnamed reporter responsible for video footage of the knife attack have not expanded beyond her, but the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA) has warned that police searched her home without a lawyer present and appeared to rapidly escalate the situation from asking her assistance in the case to investigating her for any potential crimes.
HKFP identified the woman as a reporter for the Chinese-American outlet Secret China. The South China Morning Post identified her as a reporter for the Vision Times, an online outlet the Post claimed, citing an unnamed source, may have ties to the Falun Gong spiritual movement. Falun Gong members have been among the most vocal opponents of the Chinese Communist Party and have for years credibly accused the communist regime of imprisoning, torturing, and using its members for live organ harvesting.
The Post claimed the Vision Times had fired her before the incident this week.
The Morning Post reported that police appear to be building the case that the reporter began filming the attack shortly before it happened, suggesting that she was aware of it and it was part of a larger conspiracy against the police. It did not province any evidence confirming that investigation, however. The HKFP emphasized that police have not charged the woman with any crime and no search warrants appear to exist for the police’s actions against her.
The Hong Kong Journalists’ Association noted in its statement that the reporter had cooperated with police and offered a statement about what she witnessed the night of the attack. Police abruptly searched her home late night on Monday and stripped her of her travel documents, banning her from leaving the city. The home search occurred without a lawyer present and with no clear indication that a search warrant existed.
“The Implementation Rules for Article 43 of the national security law provides that police may only with a warrant confiscate travel documents belonging to a person under investigation over suspected violations of the security law,” HKFP noted.
The Journalists’ Association issued a statement asserting, “when a reporter filmed a suspected crime as it happened during a live stream, they are merely fulfilling their duty as a reporter. The person concerned fulfilled their duty as a citizen to assist the police investigation. Their effort should be recognised and should not be treated as such.”
The police officer stabbing occurred on July 1, the anniversary of the United Kingdom surrendering Hong Kong to China and the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. Police identified the assailant as 50-year-old Leung Kin-fai, an employee at the beverage company Vitasoy. Leung reportedly stabbed a police officer to death before committing suicide. Hong Kong officials have used the incident to threaten more censorship and restrictions on the general population, threatening anyone who wished to show sympathy or condolences in the aftermath of the event that such sentiments may be interpreted as support for terrorism and prosecuted under the “national security law.”
The national security law, passed illegally through Beijing’s National People’s Congress this year, creates four new crimes: secession, calls for foreign interference, terrorism, and subversion of state power. A guilty conviction could result in a minimum of ten years in prison.
Vitasoy itself became the target of government attacks – and at least one bomb threat – after an employee issued a statement lamenting the stabbing that pro-communist elements interpreted as supportive of Leung’s actions. Some Hong Kong residents organized small flower memorials for Leung, anyway, which police officials warned could result in “national security law” charges.