HONG KONG (AFP) - A Hong Kong newspaper linked to a spiritual group banned in China said on Tuesday (April 13) it would "never back down" after a gang of sledgehammer-wielding men ransacked its printing presses.
The assault on the Epoch Times was captured on CCTV and comes as China oversees a sweeping crackdown against critics in Hong Kong following huge and often violent democracy protests in 2019.
Footage released by the paper showed four masked men storming the printing plant in the early hours of Monday morning and smashing up equipment.
They also threw concrete rubble into machinery as terrified employees looked on.
The Epoch Times said the assault knocked out their presses, but vowed to print again soon.
"This incident was to suppress Hong Kong's freedom of speech and intended to silence media which tells the truth," Epoch Times spokesman Cheryl Ng said in a statement. "We condemn violence and never back down."
The Epoch Times is linked to falungong, a spiritual movement that is banned in mainland China and prosecuted by the authorities there.
While it is banned in China, falungong maintains a presence in semi-autonomous Hong Kong and practitioners give the Epoch Times out at street booths across the city.
Globally, the Epoch Times is printed in eight languages and publishes in 21 languages online, often penning scathing pieces about China's government.
It has something of a controversial reputation. The media group became a staunch supporter of former US president Donald Trump.
Detractors accuse the group of employing aggressive social media tactics and right-wing misinformation to create a fervently anti-China, pro-Trump media empire.
Trump loyalist Republican politicians were among those who issued statements over Monday's assault.
"The attack on the Epoch Times' Hong Kong printing plant today was an act to silence any and all opposition," Congressman Mike Waltz wrote on Twitter.
"This is even more evidence of the #CCP's (Chinese Communist Party) systematic attack on basic human rights," he added.
Hong Kong Police confirmed that its organised crime unit had taken over the investigation into Monday's attack and that no arrests had been made so far.
In an overnight statement, police said their preliminary investigation pointed to a dispute over money.
"Police received a report saying that the suspects claimed the staff from the above company owed money, and (they) used hammers to destroy five computer screens and one printer," police said.
Ms Ng, the paper's spokesman, said that was news to her.
"As far as I know, there is no such debt situation," she told AFP.