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Hong Kong pro-democracy news outlet raided by police

Hong Kong online pro-democracy outlet Stand News has been raided by hundreds of Hong Kong national security police, who arrested six people for “conspiracy to publish seditious publications”.

Hong Kong pro-democracy news outlet raided by police
Hong Kong. Photograph: Steven Yu on Pixabay.

Hong Kong Police issued a statement yesterday saying they were conducting a search with a warrant authorising them “to search and seize relevant journalistic materials.”

“Over 200 uniformed and plainclothes police officers have been deployed during the operation. The search operation is under way,” the statement said.

Senior staff were among those held in the latest crackdown on the territory's independent press. Police said that publishing and distributing seditious material is a criminal offence and punishable with up to two years in prison and a fine of HK$5,000.

“Because of the situation, Stand News is now stopping operations,” said the online outlet in a Facebook post on Wednesday 29 December. “Acting editor in chief, Patrick Lam, has resigned and all Stand News employees are dismissed.”

It added that “Stand News’s editorial policy was to be independent and committed to safeguarding Hong Kong’s core values of democracy, human rights, freedom, the rule of law and justice” and thanked readers for their “continued support.”

Stand News was founded in December 2014 and is known for its pro-democracy slant. It was nominated for the Reporters Without Borders’s 2021 Press Freedom Prize for Independence in November.

The Hong Kong news outlet is the second within this year to be closed by the authorities since the promulgation of the territory’s national security law in June last year, in what is widely considered to be a concerted effort to prevent the publication of all material critical of the Chinese government and Chinese Communist Party.

In June this year Hong Kong saw the closing of the popular Chinese-language newspaper, Apple Daily, which had long been a champion of democracy and a thorn in the side of the mainland Chinese authorities. Apple Daily’s owner, entrepreneur Jimmy Lai, and six of the paper’s senior employees have since been hit with new sedition charges on Tuesday.

The Hong Kong Journalists’ Association released a statement, saying it was “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.” They urged “the government to protect press freedom in accordance with the basic law,” which is Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.

Benedict Rogers, co-founder and CEO of Hong Kong Watch, said the arrests are “nothing short of an all-out assault on the freedom of the press in Hong Kong.”

RSF’s east asia bureau chief, Cédric Alviani, said the raid and arrests were “definitely an attack on press freedom.”

“With Stand News, one can clearly see that the Hong Kong executive’s goal is to get rid of all media that doesn’t support the official narrative in order to bring Hong Kong down to the level of repression and censorship that is equivalent to mainland China,” he said.

“When you arrest a team of journalists from a media outlet with a reputation for independence, no one can say it’s for another purpose other than to try and muzzle the media and try to control the narrative on the territory.”

A survey of Hong Kong reporters conducted by the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club last month found that almost half of respondents had plans to leave, or were considering leaving, the territory due to worsening press freedom.

The South China Morning Post reported comments made by Hong Kong’s Chief Secretary, John Lee Ka-chiu, who supported police investigations and attacked those who used their position in the media to pursue their own political agendas.

“Professional media workers should recognise these are the bad apples who are abusing their positions simply by wearing a false coat of a media worker, and then using that position [to] abuse news as a tool to pursue their own purposes,” he said.

“They will pollute press freedom. They are the people who damage press freedom.”

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