HONG KONG – Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers arrested seven people linked to a blatant pro-democracy news website and raided the site’s headquarters on Wednesday in another crackdown on the city’s once-violent independent newspaper.
Within hours, the site, Stand News, announced that it would be shutting down immediately and that its website and social media pages would be deleted one day. All employees were laid off.
“Standing News’ editorial policy must be free and committed to upholding the fundamental values of Hong Kong’s democracy, human rights, freedoms, the rule of law and justice,” the statement said. “Readers, thank you for your continued support.”
Police say seven people have been arrested on suspicion of plotting to spread treasonous news. A senior official, Steve Lee, at a news conference accused the government and the judiciary of releasing “inflammatory” content with the intention of inciting hatred, especially through its coverage of the city’s fierce pro – democracy protests in 2019.
John Lee, Hong Kong’s No. 2 official, told reporters at a separate news conference that the newspaper could not be used as a screen for endangering national security.
When asked about Stand News, he said, “These nasty apples are abusing their position by wearing the wrong coat of media personnel.” “They are the ones who are damaging the freedom of the press. Professional media personnel should realize this and tell them not to, and stay away from them.
Since the Communist Party of China imposed a national security law on the city in June 2020 to quell violent, sometimes violent protests in 2019, Hong Kong authorities have targeted critics throughout civil society, including the media.
Earlier this year, the Apple Daily was perhaps the best pro-democracy newspaper in the city. Subject to compulsion Close After several police raids on its newsroom and the arrest of several top editors and its founder, Jimmy Loy.
On Tuesday, Mr. Loy was New treason charge was laid Like the other six former senior employees the newspaper is related. One of Hong Kong’s most important voices of protest, Mr. Loy had already given voice 20 months imprisonment He faces life imprisonment on other charges in connection with his support for the pro-democracy movement.
Officers dispatched Warning letters To news organizations about the coverage they do not like, and to many foreign journalists Visa denied To work in the former British colony. The government has also announced plans to legislate against the so-called Fake news.
After the collapse of the Apple Daily, Stand News – founded in 2014 as a non-profit organization, became one of the city’s last outspoken pro – democracy outlets after mass protests that year. Officials made it clear that the next target could be set.
Hong Kong Secretary of Defense Chris Tong, this month Accused News site for “pro, defamatory and ghostly” reports on prison conditions. Beijing’s adviser Lao Xiu-kai told the Chinese state media, more bluntly, that the “living room” for opposition news outlets was shrinking.
“Stand News Ends” Mr. Lau said.
According to videos and posts shared on Facebook, the arrests began at 6 a.m. Wednesday, when officers arrived at the homes of current and former Stand News staff, including assistant editor Ranson Chan and popular local singer Denise Ho. Served on the organization’s team.
At the same time, police said more than 200 officers raided the publishing house’s headquarters in Hong Kong. Footage and photos reviewed by The New York Times showed officers splashing orange tape across the hallway inside the office building and wheeling suitcases and boxes containing computers and other items outside the newsroom. A photo showed at least two dozen large blue plastic boxes stacked in the lobby of the building.
A police official said authorities had frozen nearly $ 8 million in assets. Li said.
Police said six of those arrested were former or current senior employees of Stand News, but did not release their names. Footage reviewed by The Times showed editor-in-chief Patrick Lam being taken away from his home with handcuffs. Another person arrested was Chung Pui-quen, a former editor-in-chief and assistant editor-in-chief. According to Chan, he spoke to reporters after being questioned by police and later released.
Authorities did not specify the identity of the seventh person, but local media reported that he was a former executive of Apple Daily and that he had written for Stand News.
In addition to those arrested, police raided the homes of four other employees.
Stand News gained a reputation as a bold move that discussed struggles, trials and other political issues with lifestyle pieces and hyperlogal features.
During the 2019 protests, stand-up news reporters documented episodes Mob attack on pro-democracy protesters At a subway station; A reporter named Gwyneth Ho attacked himself. (Mrs. Ho, later resigned To enter politics, Is now in jail.)
After the Security Act, the pressure on the authorities increased rapidly. In June, Stand News Removed Online comments, published in May or earlier, indicate that Hong Kong has begun to target “speech crimes.”
It was not immediately clear whether the outlet would face charges punishable by up to life in prison under the National Security Act. The charge of treason does not fall under the Protection Act, but originates from colonial law.
But police said the arrests were made by the National Security Police and that a warrant for a newsroom search had been issued under the Security Act. And Mr. Li, a police officer, said the articles in Stand News were aimed at inciting secession, undermining state power or calling on foreign governments to impose sanctions on Hong Kong – all offenses under the Security Act.
Legal experts say authorities are blurring the lines between security law and other criminal laws in Hong Kong, and allowing more comprehensive rules, such as the strict bail conditions of the defense law, to be used in more cases.
Using a summary of the National Security Act, Senia Ng, a Hong Kong lawyer and member of the opposition Democrats, said, “The level of human rights protections, including the right to a fair trial, is very low under the NSL.
For many stand-up employees and Hong Kong’s media outlets, Wednesday’s repression was still as cold as expected.
Hong Kong Journalists Association, A business organization of about 500 local journalists, said in a statement that “it is worrying that the police have repeatedly arrested senior members of the media and raided the offices of news organizations with large quantities of newspaper material within a year.”
The union itself has come under intense pressure from the authorities. Mr. Tang, Secretary of Defense, Accused The “infiltration” campuses and leading student journalists strayed in September.
The president of the association, Mr. The test was conducted Wednesday at the home of Chan, a St News News editor. He was released in the afternoon after an interrogation and told police that his laptop, phone and iPad and bank documents and his press credentials had been seized.
“Stand News always reports professionally,” Mr. Chan said. “It’s clear to the whole world.”
Hong Kong authorities have denied any involvement in the press crackdown. When she appeared at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club in September, Regina Ip, a pro-Beijing lawyer, pointed to stand-by news as evidence that freedom of speech remained intact.
“Freedom of expression is still alive” She said. “Hong Kong Stand News, all of these websites are still running as usual.”
Joy Dong Research contributed.