Ottawa criticizes police raid on Hong Kong news media, where Canadians were arrested

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The federal government has added its voice to those criticizing this week’s police raid on a pro-democracy news outlet in Hong Kong, where a Canadian human rights activist and pop singer was among those arrested.

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Secretary of State Melanie Joly expressed Ottawa’s concern in the wake of Wednesday’s raid on Stand News, in which seven people were arrested, including Canadian activist and pop singer Denise Ho.

She has since been released from police custody.

“We are deeply concerned about the arrests in Hong Kong of current and former board and staff members of Stand News, including Canadian citizen and activist Denise Ho,” Joly wrote on Twitter.

“Media freedom and freedom of expression remain the cornerstones of democracy and crucial to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. We will continue to speak out and condemn violations of these freedoms in partnership with our international allies.”

Ho, who is a member of Stand News’ board of directors, confirmed her release via Twitter on Thursday, writing: “Thank you friends for all your kind messages, I have been released on bail and have returned home safely.”

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While Ho and four others have been released, two former editors have been charged with rioting and denied bail. These allegations came a day after the news media, which was one of the last openly critical voices in Hong Kong, said it would suspend operations.

The seven were arrested on Wednesday under a criminal order dating back to Hong Kong’s days as a British colony before 1997, when it was returned to China with a promise from Beijing that it would preserve Western freedoms for 50 years.

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Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam defended the raid on Stand News amid a broader repression of dissent in the semi-autonomous city, telling reporters that “the incitement of other people … could not be tolerated under the guise of news reporting.”

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Joly was not alone in expressing her concern.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken also criticized the arrests, saying that by keeping independent media silent, Chinese and local authorities are undermining Hong Kong’s “credibility and viability. A confident government that is not afraid of the truth embraces a free press.”

Jenny Kwan, the new Democratic MP for Vancouver-East, who was born and raised in Hong Kong, said she is devastated by the course of events as the arrests show that freedoms and human rights in the region are being ignored by China’s communist government.

“It clearly illustrates that Hong Kong has become a police state,” she said.

The arrests and criticisms come days after a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said China-Canada was at a “crossroads”.

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“Does Canada see China as a partner or a rival?” said spokesman Zhao Lijian. “This is a fundamental issue regarding the future of bilateral ties that Canada needs to think through.”

The Canadian government has previously criticized what many see as Beijing’s efforts to eradicate democracy in Hong Kong, which critics say is a violation of China’s agreement with Britain when it took control of the former British colony in 1997.

Relations between the two countries hit a low ever, after China detained two Canadians – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – in apparent retaliation for the arrest of Huawei CEO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver in December 2018.

The Michael family was detained nearly three years before U.S. authorities, who had wanted Meng extradited from Canada to be charged with fraud, agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement. Kovrig and Spavor were released shortly after Meng left Canada.

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The federal government has also announced a diplomatic boycott of the February Winter Olympics in Beijing, citing widespread Chinese human rights violations, including crimes against its Muslim Uighur population and military provocations against Taiwan.

Meanwhile, the Trudeau Liberals are expected to soon announce a decision on Huawei’s participation in their next-generation 5G Internet network.

Canada is currently the last of Five Eyes intelligence-sharing members to decide the key international security issue. The alliance includes the United States, which sees Huawei as a security threat, as well as the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

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