Hong Kong police target two former Stand News editors for rioting after raid closes shop

Two former senior editors arrested in Hong Kong police against a pro-democracy media organization were on Thursday accused of conspiring to publish rebellious material, authorities said.

About 200 police raided the office of Stand News’ online publication on Wednesday, froze its assets and arrested seven current and former senior editors and former board members.

Media advocate groups and some Western governments have criticized the raid and arrests as a sign of further erosion of press freedom since China introduced a comprehensive national security law in the former British colony last year.

In a statement, the National Security Department of Hong Kong Police said charges of conspiracy to disclose insurgent material had been leveled against two men and an online media company.

Seated police officer speaks at press conference.
Hong Kong Police National Security Department says it has raised allegations of conspiracy to publish rebellious material against Stand News staff.(Reuters: Joyce Zhou)

Although it did not identify the two people arrested or the company, an indictment filed at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court and seen by journalists identified the two as former Stand News editor-in-chief Chung Pui-kuen and acting editor-in-chief Patrick Lam.

Intervention against independent news

The same accusation of conspiracy “to publish and / or reproduce rebellious publications” was directed against Best Pencil (Hong Kong) Limited, the organization behind Stand News.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise that far-reaching individual rights, including a free press, would be protected.

Movers gather boxes of evidence into a van after a police search of the Stand News office.
The raid raises further concerns about freedom of expression and media freedom in Hong Kong.(Reuters: Tyrone Siu)

But pro-democracy activists and rights groups say freedoms have been eroded, especially since China introduced the new national security law after months of sometimes violent pro-democracy protests.

Freedom of the press restricted

The Hong Kong government denies this, and its leader, Carrie Lam, said the action against Stand News was aimed at rebellious activity, not at media repression.

“These actions have nothing to do with the so-called repression of press freedom,” Lam told reporters.

Founded in 2014 as a non-profit organization, Stand News is the most prominent remaining pro-democracy publication in Hong Kong, following a national security inquiry this year leading to the closure of incarcerated tycoon Jimmy Lais’ Apple Daily tabloid.

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Stand News shut down hours after the raid and all its employees were laid off.

Its website was not available on Thursday, and its London office manager, Yeung Tin Shui, said on Facebook that his office was also closed.

Four former members of the Stand News board – former Democratic lawmaker Margaret Ng, pop singer Denise Ho, Chow Tat-chi and Christine Fang – remain in police custody.

Chung’s wife, Chan Pui-man, formerly of the Apple Daily, was arrested again in jail.

National security threatened

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities to release the detainees immediately.

Mrs Lam, referring to Mr Blinken’s request, said it would be against the rule of law.

Beijing’s main representative office in the city, the Hong Kong Liaison Office, said Stand News was an “out-and-out political organization” that “kept publishing articles that encouraged others to use violence and even divide the country.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry office in Hong Kong said support for press freedom was used as an excuse to disrupt the stability of the city.

Reuters

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