On January 17, 2019, Taiwan's presidential office issued a statement on Facebook accusing Ta Kung Pao, a Hong Kong newspaper funded by Beijing, of fabricating a story alleging that Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen secretly sent an envoy to advise three Hong Kong independence activists. The Taiwan government is currently investigating whether the journalists violated immigration laws during their reporting, which could potentially result in all reporters from the paper being barred from entering Taiwan for three years, according to news reports.
According to Ta Kung Pao's front-page story, members of Student Localism, a Hong Kong student group that supports the territory's independence, met with a representative of Tsai's government at Academia Historia, a history museum located near the presidential office. Ta Kung Pao claimed that the three student activists were conspiring with the envoy about securing Hong Kong's independence from China.
The story was immediately debunked by the independent Taiwanese newspaper Liberty Times, which stated that the "secret envoy" was actually Times political reporter Su Yong-yao, who happened to be interviewing the activists at the time.
"Ta Kung Pao fabricated fake news, seriously violated journalism ethics and standards, and poses a danger to human safety and rights. We strongly condemn these actions," Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council deputy minister, Chiu Chui-cheng, said during a press conference.
Chiu added that authorities are investigating whether the Ta Kung Pao journalists violated Taiwan's immigration laws. Chiu stated that journalists from Hong Kong or Macau who wish to report from Taiwan on a short-term basis must apply for permit in advance, and that failing to do so could affect their ability to enter for up to three years.
The government is also investigating Wen Wei Po, another Beijing-backed Hong Kong paper that ran the story, Chui said. According to news reports, such an immigration violation could result in all journalists from the two papers being banned from entering Taiwan for three years.
When CPJ called Ta Kung Pao's news department, the person who answered the phone said he knew nothing and hung up. CPJ also contacted Wen Wei Po for comment, but was directed to call Ta Kung Pao.
Ta Kung Pao defended the main points of the report in an article published on January 21, insinuating that Su and the pro-independence Liberty Times have close ties with Tsai and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.
Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council told CPJ that the immigration agency will be responsible for investigating any unlawful actions regarding the incident.