© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A panoramic view of the Central financial district during sunset, in Hong Kong, China March 11, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
By Edmond Ng and Sara Cheng
HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hundreds of Hong Kong national security police raided the offices of online pro-democracy media outlet Stand News on Wednesday and arrested six people, including senior staff. , on suspicion of an “ambitious publication” violation.
Stand News, founded in 2014 as a non-profit organization, is the most prominent pro-democracy publication remaining in Hong Kong after a national security investigation earlier this year resulted in the closure of Apple, the icon of tycoon Jimmy Lai (NASDAQ:) Daily tabloid .
The raid further raised concerns about media freedoms in the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise of more individual rights to be protected.
In a statement, police said they had a warrant for “search and seizure of relevant press materials”.
“More than 200 uniformed and plainclothes police officers were deployed,” the statement said.
Separately, police said they had arrested three men and three women, aged between 34 and 73, who did not give their names, for “conspiracy to publish publications of a seductive nature”.
Ronson Chan, deputy editor-in-chief of Stand News and head of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), was not among those arrested, but said police confiscated computers, iPhones, iPads, cards newspaper and his bank records during an early morning search. residence.
“Stand News always reports professionally,” he added. Other senior staff members could not be reached for comment.
The Stand News office in an industrial building in the Kwun Tong working-class area has been partially cordoned off, with lots of police around the hallways and four trucks parked downstairs.
Officers were seen loading about three dozen boxes of documents and other materials seized as evidence onto a truck.
Steven Butler, Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the police action was an “overt attack on Hong Kong’s already tattered press freedom”.
The government’s Office of Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Authorities have repeatedly said all prosecutions are evidence-based and have nothing to do with the occupations of those arrested.
Seduction is not among the crimes listed under sweeping national security laws imposed by Beijing on the city in June 2020, punishing terrorism, colluding with foreign forces, subversion and secession. sentenced to life imprisonment.
But recent court judgments have allowed authorities to use the powers conferred by the new law to implement previously sparsely used colonial-era laws, including the Criminal Ordinance. drug offenses.
Authorities say the security law restored order after the often violent pro-democracy unrest in 2019. Critics see the law as a tool to quell dissent. political opinion and has set the global financial center on an authoritarian path.
Benedict Rogers (NYSE:), executive director of human rights group Hong Kong Watch, said in a statement.
In June, hundreds of police raided Apple Daily’s premises, arresting executives on charges of “foreign collusion.” The newspaper later closed after police froze its assets.
On Tuesday, prosecutors filed an additional charge of “ambitious publications” against Lai and six other former Apple Daily employees.
Police did not release which Apple Daily or Stand News articles they found intriguing.
Stand News’ charter states that it will be independent, self-sufficient and committed to upholding Hong Kong’s core values of “democracy, human rights, the rule of law and justice”.
Following the Apple Daily raid, Stand News said it would stop accepting donations from readers and removed commentary from the platform to protect supporters, authors, and editors, and time added that “criminals of speech” had arrived in Hong Kong.
The June announcement said senior lawyer and former Democratic lawmaker Margaret Ng, pop singer Denise Ho and four others had resigned from the board, leaving two founding directors, Tony Tsoi and former Editor-in-Chief Chung Pui-kuen.
Local media said the six people arrested on Wednesday included Ng, Ho, Chung, acting editor-in-chief Patrick Lam and former board members Chow Tat-chi and Christine Fang.
In a statement, the HKJA said it was “deeply concerned that police have repeatedly arrested high-ranking members of the media and searched the offices of news organizations containing large quantities of journalistic material.” solstice”.