HONG KONG – A pro-democracy website in Hong Kong closed on Wednesday after police raided its offices and arrested seven current and former editors, board members and a journalist in connection with ‘continued crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
Stand News said in a statement that its website and social media are no longer updated and will be removed. He said all employees have been made redundant.
The outlet was one of the last openly critical voices in Hong Kong after the shutdown of the Apple Daily newspaper, which closed after its publisher, Jimmy Lai, and key editors were arrested and its assets frozen.
Police raided the offices of Stand News earlier in the day after arresting all six people, including singer and popular activist Denise Ho, a former board member, for conspiring to publish a seditious publication .
They later also arrested a seventh person, a former editor of Apple Daily who is married to the arrested former editor of Stand News.
More than 200 officers were involved in the search, police said. They had a warrant to seize relevant journalistic documents under a national security law enacted last year.
The seven were arrested under a crime ordinance that dates from Hong Kong’s time as a British colony before 1997 when it was returned to China. Those found guilty could face up to two years in prison and a fine of up to 5,000 Hong Kong dollars ($ 640).
Police did not identify who was arrested, but Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper reported that it was a current and former editor of Stand News, as well as four former board members, including Ho and former lawmaker Margaret Ng.
A Facebook post early Wednesday morning on Ho’s account confirmed that she was being arrested. A subsequent message posted on her behalf said she was fine and urged her friends and supporters not to worry about her.
This post attracted nearly 40,000 likes and 2,700 comments, mostly from supporters.
Early Wednesday, Stand News posted a video on Facebook of police officers at the home of deputy editor Ronson Chan. Chan, who is also president of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, was taken for questioning, the organization confirmed in a statement.
Chan, who was later released, told media that police seized his electronics, bank cards and press card.
The arrests come as authorities crack down on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city. Hong Kong police previously raided the offices of the former Apple Daily newspaper, seizing boxes of hardware and computer hard drives to aid them in their investigation and freezing millions of assets, resulting in subsequently forced the newspaper to cease its activities.
Police charged Lai of the Apple Daily, who is already jailed on other counts, with sedition on Tuesday.
“We are not targeting journalists, we are not targeting the media, we are just targeting national security offenses,” said Li Kwai-wah, chief superintendent of the national security police department. “If you just report, I don’t think that’s a problem. “
He told a press conference that those arrested were held to account for their actions even if they had quit Stand News.
When asked what advice he had for the media, Li replied, “Don’t be biased. You know how to report well, how to be a responsible journalist, how to report impartially to your readers. That’s all I can give you.
Earlier this year, Stand News announced that it would be suspending subscriptions and removing most opinion pieces and columns from its website due to national security law. Six members of the board of directors also resigned from the company.
The Journalists Association urged the city government to protect press freedom in accordance with Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
“The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) is deeply concerned that the police have repeatedly arrested senior media officials and searched the offices of news agencies containing large amounts of journalistic material in the ‘within a year,’ she said in a statement.
Benedict Rogers, co-founder and CEO of the non-governmental organization Hong Kong Watch, said the arrests were “nothing less than a total assault on press freedom in Hong Kong.”
“When a free press guaranteed by Hong Kong’s Basic Law is called ‘seditious’, it is a symbol of how quickly this once large and open international city has become little more than a police state,” he said. he declared.
Wednesday’s arrests also followed 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.