Hong Kong pro-democracy news site Stand News closes hours after police raid office

Stand News, Hong Kong’s leading pro-democracy news outlet, said it would close after national security police officers raided its headquarters, marking the latest step in a government crackdown on independent media and opposition activists.

More than 200 officers descended on Wednesday morning on Stand News, a news site known for its critical coverage of government policies. Police arrested six people, including current and former senior executives, for alleged “conspiracy to publish seditious publication” under British colonial-era laws.

Police said they used a search warrant to seize journalistic materials and that the government had frozen about HK$61m (US$8m) of Stand News’s assets under the sweeping national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong in response to pro-democracy protests in 2019.

The arrested journalists included Chung Pui-kuen, the outlet’s former top editor who resigned last month, and acting editor Patrick Lam, according to a person familiar with the matter and local media.

Denise Ho, a well-known Hong Kong singer and opposition activist, and Margaret Ng, a former lawmaker, both former members of the news site’s board, were also arrested.

Ronson Chan, a senior editor at Stand News and chair of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, was taken from his home by police for questioning.

Steve Li, senior superintendent of the police national security unit, accused the outlet of publishing articles that “incited hatred” against the city’s government and “stirred up dissatisfaction among residents”. Police also cited opinion articles authored by pro-democracy activists as part of the grounds for the arrests.

Police raid Stand News’s office in Hong Kong
Police said they seized journalistic materials from Stand News and froze about $8m of its assets © Vincent Yu/AP

The raid was launched six months after Apple Daily was forced to close when authorities froze its assets and arrested a number of senior journalists. The popular tabloid was previously a leading pro-democracy news outlet and a frequent government critic.

Jimmy Lai, the company’s founder who is in prison in relation to separate allegations, and six former senior employees of Apple Daily were also charged with seditious publication on Tuesday.

John Lee, Hong Kong’s second-highest ranking official, warned reporters that the government would retaliate against anyone who “makes use of media work as a tool to pursue their political purpose . . . [that] contravenes the law and endangers national security”.

Critics said the strike against Stand News was another indication of the growing threat to freedoms in the city, despite pledges by Beijing to protect the media and speech following Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

Dozens of opposition activists have fled the city or been arrested after the security law came into effect, and foreign reporters have been denied visas to work in the territory.

“The arrests, happening just before the new year, have sent a strong signal,” said Grace Leung, a lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who specialises in media regulation and policies.

“It further [extends the] chilling effect . . . with many [journalists] already feeling unease,” she added. “Other media outlets may still be continuing to do their jobs, but no one knows when they will be targeted next and there seems to be no way to prevent that from happening.”

A survey published by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong last month found that more than 70 per cent of correspondents in the city were concerned about being arrested or prosecuted because of their reporting.

Chris Tang, the city’s security secretary, publicly criticised Stand News this month, saying its coverage of the government was “biased, misleading and demonising”.

The FCC urged authorities to respect press freedom following the raid on Stand News, saying it was “vital to Hong Kong’s status as an international financial centre”.

The HKJA expressed “deep concern” about the raid and arrests.

Stand News was nominated this year for a press freedom award given by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the media rights group announced last month.

RSF warned in its latest report that Hong Kong was in “free fall” under the security law, while officials have been considering proposals for a “fake news” regulation that many worry will further curb tolerance of critical reporting.

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