Hong Kong’s press freedom took another dive on Dec. 29, after more than 200 national security police raided the office of a local online media outlet and arrested seven people, prompting several rights groups to issue statements expressing concerns.
Stand News, a nonprofit news outlet set up in 2014, became the second Hong Kong media outlet to be raided this year after 500 police officers raided local newspaper Apple Daily’s headquarters and arrested five of its directors in June. Both media outlets are known for publishing voices supportive of the Hong Kong protesters.
The raid against Stand News’ office in Kwun Tong district ended at around noon local time, with the police seizing about 30 boxes of evidence as well as several computers.
Following the raid, Stand News announced on its Facebook page that it will stop operation immediately, including stopping updating all of its social media accounts. It added that all of its employees have been terminated. Additionally, its acting editor-in-chief Patrick Lam has resigned.
Lam was one of the seven arrested, according to Hong Kong media.
Li Kwai-wah, senior superintendent of Hong Kong’s Police National Security Department, said during a press briefing following the raid that the seven arrests included three men and four women without identifying their names. Li said they were arrested for “conspiracy to publish seditious materials,” in violation of the city’s colonial Crimes Ordinance.
Li said the news outlet published many “seditious” articles between July last year and November this year. Beijing’s draconian national security law went into effect on July 1, 2020.
These articles had the intention of “causing hatred” or “contempt” towards the Hong Kong government and the city’s judiciary, Li said. He also accused the media outlet of allowing international figures to “incite hatred” against the Hong Kong government and the Chinese regime through its platform.
The police superintendent also said the police have frozen Stand News’ assets worth HK$61 million (about $7.8 million).
Hong Kong pop singer and activist Denise Ho, a household name in Hong Kong, was among those arrested, according to her Facebook page. Ho was a former board member at Stand News.
Ho was an active participant in both the 2014 Umbrella Movement and the 2019–2020 anti-Chinese Communist Party (CCP), pro-democracy protest movement.
Ho’s arrest drew the concern of New York-based nonprofit Human Rights Foundation (HRF), saying that it was “outrageous” that she was placed in custody, and it was another sign that the Hong Kong government is “a puppet” of the CCP.
The CCP and the Hong Kong government “have complete disregard for press freedom and are shameless in brazenly attempting to remove all of Hong Kong’s freedom advocates from public sight through high-profile arrests,” said Thor Halvorssen, HRF chief executive officer, according to a statement.
Aside from Ho, three other former board members of Stand News were arrested, Margaret Ng, Chow Tat-chi, and Christine Fong, according to Hong Kong media. Ng was also a former pro-democracy legislator in Hong Kong.
The two other arrested were Stand News’ former editor-in-chief Chung Pui-kuen and Chung’s wife Chan Pui-man.
Several rights groups condemned the raid on Wednesday morning, after the Hong Kong government first announced that it had arrested six individuals in an operation against Stand News.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong (FCCHK), in a statement, said the raid and arrests “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.”
In a survey published in November, the FCCHK found that 61 percent of its polled said they were slightly concerned and 10 percent said very concerned about the “possibility of arrest or persecution from reporting or writing opinion articles.”
One unnamed respondent to the survey said Hong Kong’s journalistic environment “has become worse than the mainland because nobody knows what the red lines are.”
Steven Butler, Asian program coordinator at New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, said the arrests amount to “an open assault on Hong Kong’s already tattered press freedom,” according to a statement.
Brian Leung, executive director at Washington-based Hong Kong Democracy Council, expressed concerns about whether they would receive a fair trial, according to a statement.
“By branding the exercise of press freedom as sedition, Beijing is making clear that the regime doesn’t tolerate truth-telling in Hong Kong,” Leung added.
From The Epoch Times