Hong Kong-based pro-democracy online media outlet Stand News announced its closure Wednesday after targeted searches and seven arrests for “seditious publication”, the latest in a crackdown on local press by pro-Beijing authorities.
The crackdown comes as the international community is concerned about the ongoing takeover of Hong Kong since the democracy protests in 2019.
The Committee to Protect Journalists denounced the “public attack on an already fractured press freedom in Hong Kong” and Amnesty International accused “the authorities of abusing Hong Kong law”.
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The head of Hong Kong’s National Security Police, Steve Lee, said Stand News was accused of publishing “seditious” articles and blogs between July 2020 and November 2021.
“They described the Hong Kong protesters as ‘missing’ or ‘rapists’… These are baseless, evil allegations,” Lee said.
He denied that the police attack the media, stressing that the publications that write unbiased articles will not face any problems.
Police were seen at midday Wednesday pulling out Stand News boxes. According to Lee, computers, phones, documents and 500,000 Hong Kong dollars in cash were confiscated.
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In addition, he added, HK$61 million of assets owned by Stand News had been frozen.
On Wednesday, more than 200 customers raided the headquarters of Stand News and the homes of several of its employees.
An AFP reporter saw the paper’s editor-in-chief, Patrick Lamm, handcuffed to the Stand News offices.
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According to local media, police also arrested former editor Chung Boye Quinn and four former board members who resigned in June, including Cantonese pop star Denise Ho and lawyer and former Hong Kong legislator Margaret Ng; And a former reporter for Apple’s Daily. Chan Boy Man, Mr. Chung’s wife.
Mr. Lee did not rule out further arrests because some of the wanted persons are not in the Hong Kong region.
Stand News deputy editor-in-chief Ronson Chan, who is also president of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, said his home was searched and computers confiscated. But he was not arrested.
“Due to the current situation, Stand News will immediately cease its activity and will stop updating its website (website) and all of its social networks,” the post declared.
Stand News also said that all of its staff have been laid off, that its editor-in-chief Patrick Lamm has resigned and that the site will soon be shut down.
“Stand News was an independent editorial dedicated to protecting Hong Kong’s core values such as democracy, human rights, freedom, rule of law and justice,” continued the outlet, which was founded in 2014 and was nominated in November for Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Prize for Freedom of the Press.
But John Lee, Hong Kong’s executive vice president Carrie Lam, said the detainees are “evil elements (…) abusing their jobs (…) as media workers”.
During the 2019 protests, several Stand News journalists had problems with the police.
In a famous episode, one of his reporters filmed live the UV attack carried out by a masked group against pro-democracy protesters in a metro station, and continued filming while the attackers attacked it.
Stand News has been the target of sharp criticism in recent months from authorities.
It is the second local media to be silenced by the authorities.
In June, the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily closed after its assets were frozen and its top officials were arrested under a tough new national security law imposed by Beijing in July 2020.
Several Hong Kong opponents who have fled abroad denounced Wednesday’s arrests.
“The Chinese Communist Party continues to go after journalists and media outlets who dare to contradict it and tell the truth,” dissident Nathan Luo wrote on Twitter in exile in the United Kingdom.
“Stand News represents one of the last remnants of independent journalism in Hong Kong, and we are not sure if it will survive this crackdown,” said Brian Leung, a representative of the Hong Kong Democracy Council Movement, which is headquartered in the United States. .
The Hong Kong Journalists’ Association and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, which represent local and foreign journalists respectively, said they were “deeply concerned”.
EU diplomacy spokesman Peter Stano denounced a “further deterioration in press freedom” in Hong Kong.
The German Foreign Ministry said that “the searches (…) show once again that the National Security Law and other provisions are applied in an arbitrary and selective manner to combat critical voices.”
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