Hong Kong pro-democracy daily shuts down after police raid and arrests

The Hong Kong pro-democracy daily Stand News announced its closure following the arrest of seven current and former employees and a police raid on its newsroom illustrating the waning freedom of the press in this international business hub.

“Due to the current situation, Stand News will stop operating immediately and will stop updating its website and social networks,” which will be closed in a few days, said this digital newspaper on Facebook on Wednesday hours after a police operation.

More than 200 uniformed and plainclothes officers participated in the newsroom and private home searches in which they seized telephones, computers, documents and more than $ 64,000 in cash, police said.

They also arrested seven people on the crime of “conspiracy to spread a seditious publication” included in an old British colonial law.

Stand News is the second pro-democracy outlet to be shut down in Hong Kong following a police operation. In June, the Apple Daily, fiercely critical of Beijing, closed after freezing its assets and arresting several officials.

This second operation raises concerns about press freedom in this theoretically semi-autonomous city and regional headquarters of numerous international media, in which Beijing is expanding its control since the 2019 protests.

The United States condemned the move, saying it undermines the city’s reputation.

“By silencing independent media, the PRC (People’s Republic of China) and local authorities undermine Hong Kong’s credibility and viability,” Blinken added.

“A sure government that is not afraid of the truth embraces a free press,” he said.

Hong Kong’s head of government Carrie Lam replied that she coincides with a part of Blinken’s statement in which she said “journalism is not sedition.”

“Journalism is not sedition, but seditious actions and activities and inciting others through public actions cannot be condoned under the guise of news coverage,” Lam said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists described the search as “an open assault on Hong Kong’s already cracked press freedom.”

Stand News editor-in-chief Patrick Lam left the building where the newspaper’s newsroom is located in handcuffs, an AFP journalist observed.

Local media reported that those arrested also included the former editor-in-chief, Chung Pui-kuen, and four board members who resigned in June, including local pop star Denise Ho and lawyer Margaret Ng.

Police Superintendent Steve Li accused the outlet of publishing hateful articles against the Hong Kong government between July 2020 and November 2021, such as saying that protesters were “missing” or whose rights were “violated.”

“These are malicious accusations without factual basis,” Li said at a press conference, also announcing the freezing of $ 7.8 million of assets.

– “Editorially independent” –

Shortly before dawn, Stand News posted on Facebook that the national security police were at the door of the house of on-duty deputy editor Ronson Chan, who was not detained.

A few hours later, the media announced on that same platform its closure, the resignation of its chief editor Patrick Lam and the dismissal of the rest of the employees.

Founded as a nonprofit online outlet in 2014, Stand News was nominated for the Reporters Without Borders Freedom of the Press award in November.

“Stand News was editorially independent and dedicated to protecting Hong Kong’s core values ​​such as democracy, human rights, freedom and the role of law and justice,” the outlet said at its farewell.

During the massive and often violent protests of 2019, the police clashed with several of their reporters.

Following these demonstrations, Beijing increased its control over the former British colony, especially with the imposition in June 2020 of a national security law that has served as an umbrella to detain and imprison numerous opponents.

After learning about the operation, the Hong Kong Journalists Association and the Foreign Correspondents Club were “deeply concerned” and called for respect for press freedom.

Exiled activist Nathan Law tweeted that the arrests reflect the authorities’ persecution of journalists and media that “dare to challenge them and speak the truth.”

However, Hong Kong Chief Secretary John Lee said the individuals arrested were “bad guys harming press freedom” and “bad apples abusing the position … of media worker.”



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *