About 200 police raided the Stand News office on Wednesday,
froze its assets and arrested the seven current and former senior editors and
former board members, for “conspiracy to publish seditious
They were in police detention some 30 hours after their
arrest, awaiting formal charges or release. Under Hong Kong law, police can
detain suspects for a maximum of 48 hours.
The raid was the latest crackdown on the media and on
dissent in general in the former British colony since China imposed a tough
national security law in the city last year aimed at putting an end to months
of pro-democracy protests.
“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.”
Set up in 2014 as a non-profit organisation, Stand News was
the most prominent remaining pro-democracy publication in Hong Kong after a
national security investigation this year led to the closure of jailed tycoon
Jimmy Lai’s Apple Daily tabloid.
Stand News, an online publication, shut down hours after the
raid and all of its employees were dismissed.
The Stand News website was not accessible on Thursday. Its
London bureau chief, Yeung Tin Shui, said on Facebook his office had also
The seven arrested included four former members of the Stand
News board – former democratic legislator Margaret Ng, pop singer Denise Ho,
Chow Tat-chi and Christine Fang – as well as former chief editor Chung Pui-kuen
and acting chief editor Patrick Lam. Chung’s wife, Chan Pui-man, formerly with
Apple Daily, was re-arrested in prison.
Media advocacy groups, some Western governments, including
Canada and Germany, and the UN Human Rights Office condemned the raid and
arrests as a sign of erosion of press freedom in the global financial hub.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise
that wide-ranging individual rights, including a free press, would be
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Chinese and
Hong Kong authorities to immediately release those arrested.
Lam, referring to Blinken’s call, said that would be against
the rule of law.
The Chinese foreign ministry’s Hong Kong office said support
for press freedom was being used as an excuse to disrupt stability in the city.
“Those who engage in activities that endanger national
security and undermine the rule of law and public order under the cover of
journalism are the black sheep tarnishing the press freedom and will be held
accountable,” it said in a statement.