Hong Kong pro-democracy Stand News closes after police raid, arrests

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  • Police send 200 police officers to search Stand News
  • Seven arrests for offenses of “seditious publications”
  • Stand News was the most prominent pro-democracy publication on the left
  • Human rights groups denounce “open attack” on press freedom
  • Chief secretary says journalism cannot be a tool against security

HONG KONG, Dec.29 (Reuters) – Hong Kong pro-democracy outlet Stand News shut down on Wednesday after police raided offices, frozen assets and arrested senior officials for alleged “seditious publication” offenses during the latest crackdown on the city’s media.

Police action prompted censorship from the Committee to Protect Journalists and the United Nations Human Rights Office in Geneva, which expressed alarm at the “extremely rapid closure of civic space and opportunities for Hong Kong civil society to express themselves and express themselves freely “.

Stand News, established in 2014 as a nonprofit, was the largest pro-democracy publication remaining in Hong Kong after a national security investigation this year led to the shutdown of the tycoon’s Apple Daily tabloid imprisoned Jimmy Lai.

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The raid raises more concerns about press freedom in the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise that a wide range of individual rights would be protected.

“Stand News is now shutting down,” the Facebook post said, adding that all employees had been made redundant.

Steve Li, head of the national security police department, told reporters that Stand News had published information and comments inciting hatred against the authorities.

He said some of the reports indicated that protesters either disappeared during the pro-democracy unrest in the city in 2019 or were sexually harassed, which he called “factually baseless” and “malicious.” Li also said that some articles falsely claimed that the Communist Party extended its powers through independent city courts or called for foreign sanctions.

Li did not specify the exact articles. Reuters has not independently reviewed any Stand News reports.

Li said police seized property valued at HK $ 61 million ($ 7.82 million) as well as computers, telephones and journalistic equipment, and that he was not ruling out other arrests.

“We are not targeting journalists. We are targeting national security offenses,” Li said.

Police said 200 officers raided the Stand News office and three men and four women, aged 34 to 73, were arrested on suspicion of “conspiracy to publish seditious publications.”

Police did not identify them, but media said four former Stand News board members were arrested – former Democratic lawmaker Margaret Ng, pop singer Denise Ho, Chow Tat-chi and Christine Fang – as well as former editor-in-chief Chung Pui-kuen and acting. editor Patrick Lam.

Chung’s wife Chan Pui-man, formerly of Apple Daily, has been re-arrested in prison, media reported.

Reuters was unable to reach those arrested or their legal representatives.

Ronson Chan, deputy editor of Stand News and head of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), was not among those arrested but said police confiscated his computer, cell phone, tablet , his press card and bank statements during a search of his home.

“Stand News has always reported the news in a professional manner,” Chan told reporters.

Hong Kong Chief Secretary John Lee told reporters he supported the police action.

Police are seen outside the Stand News office building, after six people were arrested “for conspiring to publish a seditious publication” according to the National Security Department of the Hong Kong Police, in Hong Kong, China on December 29, 2021. REUTERS / Tyrone Siu

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“Anyone who attempts to use the work of the media as a tool to pursue their political objective or other interests contrary to the law, especially offenses that endanger national security, is the evil element that undermines the freedom of the press, ”said Lee.

“OPEN ASSAULT”

Earlier Wednesday, dozens of police were seen loading around three dozen boxes of documents and other seized items onto a truck.

The UN rights office said it was “alarmed by the continued crackdown on civic space” in Hong Kong.

“Hong Kong (…) is bound by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and has a legal obligation to respect the rights to freedom of information, expression and association, as well as to guarantee due process, “he said in a statement. Reuters in Geneva.

“We are witnessing an extremely rapid closure of civic space and of opportunities for civil society in Hong Kong to express themselves and express themselves freely, and we call on the authorities to ensure that the prosecution of proceedings in these cases fully respect those rights set out in the Covenant. “

Steven Butler, Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the arrests were an “open attack on Hong Kong’s already ragged press freedom.”

Sedition is not among the offenses listed in a national security law imposed by Beijing in June 2020 that punishes terrorism, collusion with foreign forces, subversion and secession with possible life imprisonment.

But recent court rulings have allowed authorities to use powers conferred by the new legislation to deploy rarely used colonial-era laws covering sedition. Read more

Authorities say the security law restored order after often violent pro-democracy and anti-China unrest in 2019. Critics say the legislation has placed the financial center on an authoritarian path by quashing dissent .

‘SPEECH CRIMES’

In June, hundreds of police raided the Apple Daily, arresting executives for “suspected collusion with a foreign country.” The newspaper closed shortly after.

On Tuesday, prosecutors filed a further charge of “seditious publications” against Lai and six other former employees of Apple Daily. Read more

The Stand News charter affirmed independence and a commitment to safeguard “democracy, human rights, the rule of law and justice”. Read more

After the Apple Daily raid, Stand News said it would stop accepting donations from readers and removed comments from its platform to protect supporters, writers and editorial staff, adding that “crimes of ‘expression “had come to Hong Kong.

This year, the government also embarked on a major overhaul of the public broadcaster RTHK, while authorities said they were considering fake news legislation.

The HKJA said it was “deeply concerned that police have repeatedly arrested senior media officials” and searched newsrooms.

($ 1 = 7.7960 Hong Kong dollars)

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Additional reporting by Sara Cheng, Joyce Zhou, Jessie Pang, Donny Kwok, Clare Jim and Marius Zaharia and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Tony Munroe and Marius Zaharia; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Nick Macfie

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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