Two former senior editors of Stand News, a pro-democracy news outlet in Hong Kong, were charged with conspiring to publish seditious material, said authorities. This has come a day after about 200 police personnel raided the office of the online publication..
The raid took place on Wednesday (December 29). Assets of Stan News were frozen and several current and former senior editors and former board members were arrested.
The raid was criticised by media advocacy groups and Western governments. The action by the authorities is being seen as a further erosion of press freedom in Hong Kong.
The National Security Department of the police said in a statement it had laid charges of conspiracy to publish seditious material against two men and an online media company.
“The other arrestees are being detained for further enquires,” the department said in a statement.
While it did not identify the two or the company a charge sheet filed at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court and seen by Reuters identified them as former Stand News chief editor Chung Pui-kuen and Patrick Lam, acting chief editor.
The same charge of conspiring “to publish and/or reproduce seditious publications” was levelled against Best Pencil (Hong Kong) Limited, the organisation behind Stand News.
Reuters could not reach the pair, nor any of the other five still in detention, including four former board members of Stand News, for comment. Their legal representatives could also not be reached nor could Reuters reach any representative of Best Pencil.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise that wide-ranging individual rights, including a free press, would be protected.
But pro-democracy activists and rights groups say freedoms have been eroded, in particular since China imposed the new national security law after months of at times violent pro-democracy protests.
Hong Kong’s government denies that and its leader, Carrie Lam, said the action against Stand News was aimed at seditious activity not the suppression of the media.
“These actions have nothing to do with so-called suppression of press freedom,” Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam told reporters.
“Journalism is not seditious … but seditious activities could not be condoned under the guise of news reporting.”
(With inputs from agencies)