Hong Kong pro-democracy website News shuts down after arrest, raid

HONG KONG — National security police in Hong Kong have arrested seven people linked to popular pro-democracy news site Stand News, shutting it down and dealing a blow to freedom of speech. in a city once known for its excellent journalism.

The city’s Department of National Security on Wednesday said the arrest was for conspiracy to publish inciting content, an offense under the Colonial Crimes Ordinance. This offense is punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of HK$5,000, or $641.

Stand News said following the arrest and police raid that it would cease operations, with the acting editor resigning and all staff immediately fired.

The arrest marks another attack on press freedom in the city. After Beijing imposed national security law on the city last June, the local media watched closely. Apple Daily pro-democracy newspaper print its final edition after 26 years in June of this year following the arrest of journalists and senior leaders, including founder Jimmy Lai.

Ministry of National Security senior director Li Kwai-wah told reporters after Stand News’ arrest that the news site continued to publish engaging content from July 2020 to November 2021. , after the national security law took effect. Mr. Lee cited several examples, including the disappearance of a news site that described Hong Kong protesters and reports that police were pointing guns at protesters wearing yellow helmets during protests. clash and say “burn them all”. Li said such articles are published with the aim of inciting hatred towards the government and discontent in the community.

Mr. Li said police found HK$500,000 in cash at Stand News offices and froze HK$61 million worth of assets. Police are investigating the source of the funds, he said.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily ran its final edition before shutting down at the end of June amid China’s crackdown on dissent. The WSJ’s Elaine Yu explains why the closure marks the beginning of greater uncertainty over press freedom in the city. Photo: Jerome Favre / EPA / Shutterstock (Video from 6/24/21)

Holding a copy of the national security law and referring to the law’s protection of media freedoms, Mr. Li said the authorities were not targeting any profession, but instead any who broke the law.

News of the arrest came during a 45-second live broadcast broadcast live by deputy editor Ronson Chan, who is also head of the Hong Kong Journalists Association. Mr. Chan began streaming on Stand News’ Facebook page when national security police showed up on his doorstep early Wednesday, before he was asked by officers to stop filming. Mr. Chan was later released.

Since it launched in late 2014 as a legacy non-profit organization to the pro-democracy media site House News — after 79 days of pro-democracy streets cleared — Stand News has emerged as one of the city’s boldest independent news organizations, focused on local politics. Transparent 2019 rally, its reporters and live streams are among the most watched, tracking protesters and documenting their clashes with police in incidents across the city. .

It was ranked highest for reliability among the city’s online news media in a 2019 survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Following the collapse of Apple Daily in June, Stand News said it would stop running opinion pieces — removing previous articles from its site — and stop accepting subscriptions and sponsorships as a measure. prevent.

Those arrested on Wednesday included former top editor Chung Pui-kuen, who resigned in November citing family reasons. His wife, former Apple Daily contributor and publisher Chan Pui-man, was among the group arrested in June.

On Wednesday, police also arrested a number of former Stand News board members, who resigned earlier this year as the company began taking precautions to reduce risks and preserve security. protect staff. In the group were singer Denise Ho, whose arrest at 6 a.m. was confirmed by the administrator of her verified Facebook page, and lawyer and former congressman Margaret Ng. Patrick Lam, the site’s top editor, was also arrested.

Mr. Chung and Ms. Ng could not be reached for comment. A message on Ms Ho’s Facebook page said she was fine and urged supporters not to worry.

Hong Kong police said they had received an order under national security law to search Stand News offices.


Photo:

Vincent Yu / Associated Press

Hong Kong’s police force on Wednesday said it had received orders under national security laws to search the news site’s offices in the Kwun Tong industrial park and seize press materials. The ministry said it deployed 200 uniformed and plainclothes policemen during the operation. Local media have broadcast footage of them removing dozens of boxes from the Stand News office building.

Steven Butler, Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said: “The arrests… are tantamount to an overt attack on Hong Kong’s already tattered press freedoms. . “Authorities must release [them] and drop all charges against them immediately if Hong Kong wants to retain any image of the freedoms its residents enjoyed only a few years ago. “

This year marks the first time since 1992 that journalists in Hong Kong have been jailed for their work, CPJ said. The 2021 prison census shows that China remains the world’s worst-managed country for journalists for the third year in a row.

The arrest comes a day after additional courts alleged conspiracy to produce and distribute ambitious publications against Mr. Lai, the founder of Apple Daily, and six of his former employees, while They are awaiting trial on national security. Lawyers for Mr. Lai could not be immediately contacted.

The offense of disorderly conduct in Hong Kong falls under the Crimes Ordinance, last revised in 1972, when the city was still a British colony. It defines an ambitious intention as an attempt to “generate hatred or contempt or incite discontent towards the person of the Queen,” or the Hong Kong government. The city still follows the common law and has a different legal system from the mainland.

In June, after Apple Daily published its final edition and its executives were arrested and assets frozen, President Biden issued a statement criticizing Beijing for targeting independent press and detention. media staff. “Journalists are truth tellers who hold leaders accountable and keep information flowing freely,” he said. “It’s needed more than ever in Hong Kong and in parts of the world where democracy is at stake.”

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Ronson Chan, deputy editor of Stand News and head of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, spoke to the press on Wednesday.


Photo:

miguel candela / Shutterstock

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https://www.wsj.com/articles/hong-kong-pro-democracy-site-stand-news-closes-after-arrests-raid-11640771127 Hong Kong pro-democracy website News shuts down after arrest, raid

Ian Walker

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