(Bloomberg) -- A reporter for Hong Kong’s premier English-language newspaper is “safe” in China, the publication said, after a news report claimed she’d been unreachable since traveling to Beijing in October.

“Our reporter, Minnie Chan, has taken personal leave,” the South China Morning Post said in a statement late Friday. “Her family has informed us that she is in Beijing but needs time to handle a private matter.”

The publication added that Chan’s family had asked the Post to respect her privacy.

Chan, a Chinese national who covered defense and diplomacy for the Post, didn’t return to Hong Kong after attending the Beijing Xiangshan Forum in October, the Kyodo News reported on Thursday.  

The SCMP, which is owned by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., published several reports from the military forum under Chan’s byline, most recently a Nov. 2 article on China’s potential role as a mediator in the Israeli-Hamas conflict. China used the Xiangshan event to reinforce its ties with Russia.  

Military affairs have become particularly sensitive in China this year, after its defense minister was abruptly fired from the role. Several senior figures in the secretive rocket force were also purged over the summer, without explanation. 

The Hong Kong Journalists Association said it was “deeply concerned” for Chan’s safety, according to a statement posted to its Facebook page on Friday, before the Post released its statement.

Hong Kong has typically enjoyed greater press freedom than mainland China under the “one country, two systems” framework set up after British control of the city ended in 1997. That difference has narrowed in the wake of a national security law passed in 2020, after city-wide anti-government street protests the year before.

Since then, at least three pro-democracy outlets have shuttered, including the Apple Daily newspaper, whose founder Jimmy Lai has been imprisoned on fraud charges. Hong Kong dropped to 148th place in the global press freedom ranking issued by Reporters Without Borders in 2022. Twenty years ago the city sat in 18th place.

Australian journalist Cheng Lei said in October that she was detained in China for nearly three years because she shared an official briefing document just before the government released it. 

Cheng was released earlier in October as ties between China and Australia improved. The Chinese spy agency said Cheng pleaded guilty to passing national secrets to an overseas institution.

“The safety of our journalists in the course of their professional work is of the utmost importance,” the Post said in the Friday statement. “The Post’s operations and news coverage remain unaffected.”

--With assistance from Philip Glamann.

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