Stand News, the Hong Kong pro-democracy media outlet was shut down on Dec. 29 after its office was raided by police and its assets frozen over offenses of “seditious publication” in the latest crackdown on the city’s media.
Hong Kong Police also arrested seven people affiliated with the outlet, including deputy assignment editor Ronson Chan, acting chief editor Patrick Lam, former editor-in-chief Chung Pui-kuen, and former director and chief science editor Chow Tai-chi.
Antony Blinken, Secretary of State announced the press statement late night at 11:51 pm on December 29, called on PRC and Hong Kong authorities to immediately release those journalists and media executives of Stand News.
International community rally behind Hong Kong
The police action prompted outrage from the international community, with the U.N. Human Rights Office stating they were alarmed at the “extremely rapid closing of the civic space and outlets for Hong Kong’s civil society to speak and express themselves freely.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in the press statement that “the Hong Kong government’s raid on December 29 and arrest of seven senior staff at Stand News have forced yet another of the few remaining bastions of free and independent media in Hong Kong to cease operations.”
“Journalism is not sedition. We call on PRC and Hong Kong authorities to cease targeting Hong Kong’s free and independent media and to immediately release those journalists and media executives who have been unjustly detained and charged,”
“By silencing independent media, PRC and local authorities undermine Hong Kong’s credibility and viability. A confident government that is unafraid of the truth embraces a free press,” Blinken added.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio also condemned the raid on Twitter, voicing his support for Hong Kong: “The closure of Stand News and the arrest of prominent pro-democracy activists. This is another #CCP assault on freedom in Hong Kong.”
A spokesperson from the German foreign ministry said the EU should strongly oppose the violation of Hong Kong’s civil liberties, “From our point of view, the events illustrate anew that there is a steady erosion of pluralism, freedom of opinion and freedom of the press in Hong Kong – especially since this national security law came into force,”
“From our point of view it is very clear that critical journalism must not be placed under general suspicion,” the spokesperson added.
Benedict Rogers, co-founder and CEO of the non-governmental organization Hong Kong Watch said in a Twitter post, ”We must say — not only with words but also with actions — Free #MargaretNg. Free #DeniseHo. Free Stand News. Free #HongKong. And there is a high price to pay if you don’t.”
Rogers added that, “[The] world cannot ignore the latest attack on Hong Kong’s rights. Robust sanctions are needed to show China that its silencing of all dissent has consequences.”
“The arrests of six people associated with Stand News amounts to an open assault on Hong Kong’s already tattered press freedom, as China steps up direct control over the former colony,” Steven Butler, program coordinator for Hong Kong’s Committee to Protect Journalists, said.
“Authorities must release the six arrested and drop all charges against them immediately if Hong Kong is to retain any semblance of the freedoms that its residents enjoyed only a few years ago.” Butler added.
Taiwan backs Hong Kong
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen called on the international community to stand up for freedom and democracy in Hong Kong. Tsai condemned the arrests of Stand News staff and highlighted that the arrest of activist Denise Ho was “yet another example of the Beijing authorities’ crackdown on free speech in Hong Kong.”
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), a government agency in charge of cross-strait affairs, condemned the raid and said the arrests were the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) most recent tactic in suppressing Hong Kong’s press freedom.
Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said the arrests again showed the world that the CCP would continue to break its promise to preserve the freedoms that Hong Kong’s citizens should be entitled to.
According to the DPP, Hong Kong authorities have repeatedly suppressed press freedom in the special administrative region since the implementation of the national security law began in June 2020.
Update: On Dec. 30, singer Denise Ho posted an update on her Twitter account announcing that she had been released on bail.
Popular singer and activist Denise Ho and lawyer Margaret Ng were also amongst arrested on charges of conspiracy to publish a seditious publication. Chan and Ho are former members of Stand News’s board and Chan chairs the Hong Kong Journalists Association.
Stand News said in a statement that its website and social media accounts would no longer be updated and will be removed from the Internet. It also said that all its employees had been dismissed.
Steve Li, head of Hong Kong’s police national security department, told reporters that police had seized assets worth HK$61 million (US$7.82 million) as well as computers, phones, and journalistic materials.
According to reports, more than 200 officers entered the publication’s headquarters at 6 a.m on Wednesday to conduct an initial search. Photos then showed the officers wheeling suitcases and boxes containing computers and other materials out of the newsroom. A photo showed at least two dozen large plastic boxes being taken away.
The raid raises more concerns about press freedom in the former British colony, which was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, with the promise that its freedoms, including a free press, would be protected. However, this has not been the case, as citizens in Hong Kong have faced an increasing erosion of civil liberties and attacks at the hands of Chinese police.