Hong Kong Police Raid Pro-Democracy Stand News, Arrest Six | Freedom of press

Hundreds of Hong Kong national security officers raided the offices of pro-democracy online media Stand News on Wednesday and arrested six people, including senior officials, for alleged “seditious publication” offenses.

Stand News, established in 2014 as a nonprofit, is the largest pro-democracy publication remaining in Hong Kong after a national security investigation earlier this year led to the closure of the iconic tabloid Apple Daily of jailed mogul Jimmy Lai.

The raid further raises concerns about media freedoms 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.

Police said in a statement they had a warrant “to search and seize relevant journalistic material.”

“More than 200 police officers in uniform and in civilian clothes have been deployed,” the statement said.

Photos posted on social media also showed non-uniformed police carrying plastic crates outside the publication office.

Meanwhile, police said they arrested three men and three women, aged 34 to 73, without naming them, for “conspiracy to publish seditious publications”.

According to reports, Patrick Lam, editor-in-chief of Stand News, was among those arrested. Lam was reportedly arrested by police at his home and several gadgets were also allegedly confiscated.

Stand News said earlier that Ronson Chan, its deputy editor who is also the head of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, had been questioned.

The news site posted a video of police arriving at Chan’s residence and showing their arrest warrant.

Chan was then released by the police. In a statement after the police search of his home, he said: “Stand News has always reported the news in a professional manner, there is no doubt and everyone knows it. Whatever the crime, it will not change this fact.

Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera that the arrests had “nothing to do with” sedition.

“This is outright retaliation from the Chinese government, which seeks to stamp out free media in Hong Kong documenting Beijing’s abusive conduct,” Richardson said. “The shutdown of Stand News, Apple Daily and other critical media exposes this agenda.”

After months of anti-government protests in 2019, Beijing last year imposed a sweeping national security law in the semi-autonomous city that critics say restricts the freedoms promised to the former British colony that cannot be found in mainland China.

The law criminalizes secessionism, subversion, terrorism and foreign collusion to interfere in city affairs.

Since its implementation in June last year, more than 100 pro-democracy supporters have been arrested under the law, and many more have fled abroad.

Earlier this year, police raided the offices of pro-democracy publication Apple Daily, forcing it to shut down after its assets were frozen.

Lai, a staunch critic of China, was also arrested and jailed.

Earlier this month, Lai was found guilty of several counts related to his alleged involvement in a banned vigil last year in commemoration of the victims of China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.

Police also charged Lai with sedition on Tuesday.

Oliver Farry, foreign correspondent and writer in Hong Kong, told Al Jazeera that the arrests appeared to be part of a targeted campaign against media criticizing the authorities.

“It’s hard to see it stop. The media are very cautious under the National Security Act, but today’s arrests, like many others have been, are governed by the Colonial Era Crimes Ordinance, which is just as vague and extensive, ”Farry said.

“If the government wants to prosecute someone, it has a lot of tools in these laws. And, while foreign governments or the media may cry foul about it, there isn’t much they can do in the end. “

Police stand guard outside the Stand News office after six people were arrested “for conspiring to publish a seditious publication,” according to the National Security Department of the Hong Kong Police on Wednesday [James Pomfert/Reuters]

Farry said he expected authorities to continue cracking down on the town’s media.

“It is not clear whether other independent media will be targeted as well – the Hong Kong and Chinese governments are so far more concerned about those, like Stand News, which publish in Chinese,” he said. .

“But there will probably be a movement against the Hong Kong Journalists Association. This has been going on for some time. Pro-Beijing media and some members of the government reported that the HKJA had an anti-government bias and irregular membership practices. It’s really not that hard to imagine the government banning it.

The authorities say the National Security Law restored stability after months of often violent pro-democracy protests.

Officials in Hong Kong and China have repeatedly said media freedoms are respected but not absolute and cannot endanger national security.

The latest arrests follow the removal of sculptures and other artwork from college campuses last week.

The works supported democracy and commemorated the victims of the Chinese crackdown on Democratic protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.

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