Hong Kong Pro-Democracy News Site Closes After Police Raid and Arrests
(HONG KONG) — A vocal pro-democracy website in Hong Kong shut down Wednesday after police raided its office and arrested seven current and former editors, board members and a journalist in a continuing crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
Stand News announced in a statement its decision to take down the Stand News website and social media. All employees were dismissed, it said.
This outlet was the only remaining Hong Kong openly critical voice following the closing of the Apple Daily newspaper. Its publisher Jimmy Lai and top editors were taken into custody and all assets frozen.
Police raided Stand News’ office earlier in the day after arresting the six, including popular singer and activist Denise Ho, a former board member, on charges of conspiracy to publish a seditious publication.
A seventh suspect was also taken into custody, an ex-editor of Apple Daily who is married with the arresting former editor of Stand News.
According to police, the search involved more than 200 officers. The warrant was to search for relevant journalistic material under the national security law that was passed last year.
The seven were arrested under a crime ordinance that dates from Hong Kong’s days as a British colony before 1997, when it was returned to China. A sentence could see them spend up to 2 years in jail and pay a fine up to $640.
Police did not identify who was arrested, but Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper reported they were one current and one former editor of Stand News, and 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 second message was posted by Ho on her behalf, confirming that she is safe. It urged her friends and supporters to not worry.
The post was liked by nearly 40,000. It also received 2,700 comments, most of them from supporters.
Stand News uploaded a Facebook video of Ronson Chan, a deputy editor of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, at his home on Wednesday morning. The Hong Kong Journalists Association confirmed that Chan was also taken from his home to be interrogated.
Chan later spoke out to media about being taken into custody by the police.
These arrests are part of a crackdown on dissidents in the Chinese semi-autonomous city. Hong Kong police had previously searched the offices of Apple Daily, a newspaper that has since been closed down. They confiscated boxes and hard drives and began an investigation. Later they frozen millions of assets.
Police charged the Apple Daily’s Lai, who is already jailed on other charges, with sedition on Tuesday.
“We are not targeting reporters, we are not targeting the media, we just targeted national security offenses,” said Li Kwai-wah, senior superintendent of the police National Security Department. “If you only report, I don’t think this is a problem.”
He stated at a news conference the arrestees had to be held accountable for their actions, even if they had resigned as Stand News.
Asked what advice he had for the media, Li replied, “Don’t be biased. It is easy to know how to write, be a responsible journalist, and give non-biased reports to your readers. That’s all I can give you.”
Stand News announced earlier in the year that it will suspend subscriptions to its site and take down most of the opinion columns due to the National Security Law. Six other board members also left the company.
The journalists’ association urged the city’s 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 members of the media and searched the offices of news organizations containing large quantities of journalistic materials within a year,” it said in a statement.
Benedict Rogers, co-founder and CEO of the non-governmental organization Hong Kong Watch, said the arrests are “nothing short of an all-out assault on the freedom of the press in Hong Kong.”
“When a free press guaranteed by Hong Kong’s Basic Law is labeled ‘seditious,’ it is a symbol of the speed at which this once great, open, international city has descended into little more than a police state,” he said.
Wednesday’s arrests also followed the removal of sculptures and other artwork from university campuses last week. The works supported democracy and memorialized the victims of China’s crackdown on democracy protesters at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.