Hong Kong Police Raid Booth News and Staff Arrest


HONG KONG – Hundreds of Hong Kong police arrested seven people linked to a pro-democracy news website and raided the site’s headquarters on Wednesday, as part of a new government crackdown on the once-vibrant independent press in the city.

Within hours, the Stand News site announced that it would shut down immediately and that its website and social media pages would be taken down that day. All employees have been made redundant.

“The editorial policy of Stand News was to be independent and committed to protecting Hong Kong’s core values ​​of democracy, human rights, liberty, the rule of law and justice,” the statement said. . “Thank you, readers, for your continued support. “

The seven people were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to publish seditious material, police said. A senior official, Steve Li, accused the publication at a press conference of posting “inflammatory” material intended to incite hatred towards the government and the judiciary, including through its coverage of fierce pro-government protests. of democracy in the city in 2019.

Hong Kong No.2 John Lee told reporters at a separate press conference that journalism cannot be used as a screen to endanger national security.

“These are the bad apples who abuse their position just by wearing a fake media worker coat,” he said when asked on Stand News. “They are the ones who violate the freedom of the press. Media professionals should recognize this, say no to these people and walk away from them.

Hong Kong officials have targeted criticism from civil society, including the media, since the Chinese Communist Party imposed a national security law on the city in June 2020 to quell the fierce and sometimes violent protests of 2019. .

Earlier this year, Apple Daily, perhaps the city’s best-known pro-democracy newspaper, was forced to shut down after several raids on its newsroom and the arrests of several editors and its founder , Jimmy Lai.

On Tuesday, Mr. Lai was charged with a new newspaper-related sedition charge, along with six other former senior officials. Mr Lai, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent opposition voices, had already been sentenced to 20 months in prison for his support of the pro-democracy movement, and he faces life in prison for others charges.

Officials have sent warning letters to news outlets about coverage they don’t like, and several foreign journalists have been denied visas to work in the former British colony. The government has also announced its intention to enact a law against fake news.

After the shutdown of Apple Daily, Stand News – which was founded as a nonprofit in 2014 after an earlier round of mass pro-democracy protests that year – has become one of the the city’s latest openly pro-democracy media. Officials have made it clear he could be the next target.

Hong Kong Security Secretary Chris Tang this month accused the news site of “biased, slanderous and demonizing” information about conditions in a prison. Lau Siu-Kai, a Beijing adviser, was even more blunt, telling Chinese state media that the “survival room” for opposition news organizations was shrinking.

“Stand News will end,” Mr. Lau said.

Wednesday’s arrests began around 6 a.m., according to videos and messages shared on Facebook, when officers arrived at the homes of former and current Stand News staff, including Ronson Chan, deputy editor, and Denise Ho, a popular local singer who had served on the organization’s board of directors.

At around the same time, more than 200 officers entered the publication’s headquarters in Hong Kong and carried out a search, police said. Images and photos examined by the New York Times showed officers threading orange duct tape in a hallway inside the office building and removing suitcases and boxes containing computers and other materials from the office. newsroom. One photo showed at least two dozen large blue plastic boxes stacked in the lobby of the building.

Mr. Li, the police chief, said authorities had frozen nearly $ 8 million in assets.

Six of those arrested were former or current senior executives of Stand News, police said, although they did not release the names. Images examined by the Times showed Patrick Lam, the acting editor, being escorted from his home in handcuffs. Another arrested was Chung Pui-kuen, a former editor, according to Mr. Chan, the deputy editor, who spoke to reporters after being questioned by police and then released.

Authorities did not specify the identity of the seventh person, but local media reported that she was a former Apple Daily executive who had also written for Stand News.

In addition to the arrests, police raided the homes of four other employees, police said.

Stand News had earned a reputation as a courageous company that mixed diligent coverage of protests, trials and other political issues with lifestyle articles and hyperlocal features.

During the 2019 protests, Stand News reporters documented episodes, including a mob attack on pro-democracy protesters at a metro station; a journalist, Gwyneth Ho, was herself assaulted. (Ms. Ho, who later resigned to enter politics, is now in prison.)

After the security law, pressure from the authorities quickly mounted. In June, Stand News deleted online comments posted in or before May, noting that Hong Kong was starting to target “speech offenses.”

It was not immediately clear whether the outlet would face charges under the National Security Act, which can lead to severe penalties of up to life imprisonment. The charge of sedition does not fall under security law, but rather stems from a colonial-era ordinance.

But the arrests were made by the National Security Police, and the warrant for the newsroom raid was issued under the Security Act, police said. And Mr. Li, the police chief, said the Stand News articles were aimed at inciting secession, overthrowing state power, or calling on foreign governments to impose sanctions on Hong Kong – all of them. security law violations.

Legal experts said authorities were blurring the lines between the Security Law and other criminal laws in Hong Kong, essentially allowing more general provisions of the Security Law, such as stricter bail conditions. , to be used in a greater number of cases.

“The level of protection of human rights, including the right to a fair trial, under the NSL is much lower,” said Senia Ng, a Hong Kong lawyer and member of the opposition Democratic Party, using an acronym for National Security Act.

For many employees at Stand News and in the Hong Kong media sphere more broadly, Wednesday’s crackdown, while expected, was still frightening.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association, a professional organization of about 500 local journalists, said in a statement it was “deeply concerned that police have repeatedly arrested senior media officials and searched news agency offices containing large amounts of journalistic material within a year. “

The association itself has come under intense pressure from the authorities. Mr. Tang, the security secretary, accused him in September of “infiltrating” campuses and misleading student journalists.

The association’s president is Mr. Chan, the editor-in-chief of Stand News, whose home was raided on Wednesday. He was released around noon after being questioned, and he told reporters that police seized his laptop, phone and iPad, as well as bank documents and press credentials.

“Stand News has always done professional reporting,” Chan said. “It’s obvious for the whole world to see.”

Hong Kong officials have denied any crackdown on press freedom. In an appearance at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club in September, Regina Ip, a pro-Beijing lawmaker, said Stand News was proof that free speech was intact.

“Freedom of speech is still very much alive,” she said. “Hong Kong Stand News, all of these websites are still working as usual.”

Joy Dong contributed research.


Comments are closed.