Hong Kong police raid pro-democracy news outlet and arrest six

A government notice on Wednesday said officers arrested six current and former senior staff members of “an online media company” in the morning for “conspiracy to publish seditious publications.”

“The arrested persons included three men and three women, aged 34 to 73. The searches on their respective residences are underway,” the statement said, without identifying the individuals or the company.

In a separate statement, the government said 200 national security police officers raided a newsroom in the Kwun Tong area, seizing journalistic materials.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) soon after confirmed that Stand News was the publication and listed the names of those arrested.

The arrests come at the end of a turbulent year for press freedoms in Hong Kong, which dubs itself “Asia’s World City” and once prided itself on being the region’s preeminent international media hub.

The city’s once vibrant media landscape has withered since Beijing imposed a sweeping National Security Law on the city in 2020, which led to the shuttering of the fiercely outspoken pro-democracy outlet Apple Daily earlier this year.

Wednesday’s government notice referenced allegations that stem from a colonial-era crimes ordinance, but the police involved with the Stand News case are national security officers. Authorities have not yet released more detail about the allegations.

“The Hong Kong Journalists Association is deeply concerned that the police have repeatedly arrested senior members of the media and searched the offices of news organizations containing large quantities of journalistic materials within a year,” the HKJA said in a statement Wednesday, adding that it urged the government to “to protect press freedom in accordance with the Basic Law,” the city’s de facto constitution since 1997.

The association added that Ronson Chan Ron-sing, the deputy assignment editor of Stand News and the chairman of HKJA, was also “taken away by the police.”

Stand News had posted a video of police arriving at Chan’s home for a raid earlier on Wednesday morning. Chan later told local media in Hong Kong that he had not been arrested.

‘The stakes are high’

The HKJA has continued to speak out in defense of press freedom, despite facing criticism from Hong Kong officials and Chinese state media.

The latest police actions came hours after the HKJA hosted its annual dinner on Tuesday, which had been delayed for more than a year due to coronavirus restrictions.

“We know that the stakes are high, but press freedom has been the backbone of Hong Kong’s success,” Chan said in a speech at the dinner. “Hong Kong will always need the truth as well as journalists. No matter how difficult the road ahead will be, the association will strive to never fail.”

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Among the six arrested was Cantonese pop star and prominent pro-democracy activist Denise Ho. She was arrested at her home at 6 a.m., her assistant, who asked not to be named, confirmed to CNN Business.

Ho was formerly on the board of directors at Stand News. Police spent over two hours at the singer’s home and seized phones and computers as well as her ID card and passport, her assistant told CNN Business.

Others arrested include Margaret Ng, a former pro-democracy lawmaker and prominent barrister, former Stand News chief editor Chung Pui-kuen and acting chief editor Patrick Lam, according to the HKJA.

At the Stand News office, police gathered about 30 boxes of “evidence,” a press officer for the police at the site told CNN Business.

Police officers stand guard during a raid at the Stand News office in Hong Kong.
Founded after student-led demonstrations in Hong Kong in 2014, Stand News rose to prominence during the city’s pro-democracy protests in 2019 with its breaking news coverage and hard-hitting editorials and opinion pieces.
It is the second independent media outlet targeted by the National Security Law, after Apple Daily, which was shut down in June after hundreds of police officers raided its office, arrested executives and froze its assets under national security charges.

The raids on Stand News come one day after jailed Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai was hit with a charge of “producing and distributing seditious publications”.

Lai was sentenced to 13 months in prison this month for inciting and participating in the city’s annual candlelight vigil to commemorate the Tiananmen Square crackdown last year. Authorities had declared that assembly illegal, owing to coronavirus restrictions. Lai was already serving time in prison for other charges.

A ‘shockwave through Hong Kong’

Speaking at the HKJA’s annual dinner Tuesday, Chan described the arrest of Lai and his colleagues and the subsequent shuttering of the Apple Daily as a “shockwave throughout Hong Kong” which “had a big impact on news workers who are still struggling in the frontline every day.”

Chan also acknowledged the increasing difficulty for the HKJA to fill the positions at its executive committee, due to concerns about their personal safety and career prospects.

“In fact, the position of vice-chairperson is still vacant and will remain so until November. It shows that many colleagues perceive that becoming an HKJA executive committee member could make one’s life precarious,” Chan said.

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In a statement Wednesday, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong said it was “deeply concerned” over the arrests associated with Stand News.

“These actions are a further blow to press freedom in Hong Kong and will continue to chill the media environment in the city following a difficult year for the city’s news outlets,” it said.

The National Security Law was drafted in Beijing and promulgated in Hong Kong in June 2020. The law criminalized acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security — with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for all four.

Since the law’s enactment, the city’s pro-democracy camp has been virtually wiped out, with prominent figures either in jail or in exile overseas. A series of civil groups have disbanded, and more recently, several universities have removed statues promoting democracy or commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre overnight, sparking concerns about freedoms on campuses.

The Hong Kong government has repeatedly denied criticism that the law has stifled freedoms, claiming instead that it has restored order in the city after the 2019 protest movement.

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