Hong Kong has woken up to the news of the raid against the board of directors of the digital media Stand News, one of the few remaining pro-democracy in the former British colony, by the authorities charged with safeguarding the draconian National Security Law imposed by Beijing last year. Six executives who are or have been part of the board and a journalist have been arrested. The latest blow against freedom of expression in the semi-autonomous region comes just half a year after the magazine closed Apple Daily, whose owner, Jimmy Lai, remains behind bars. In a statement posted on his official Facebook page, Stand News has announced its immediate closure.
As reported by the police in a statement, 200 uniformed and plainclothes officers have participated in the arrest around six in the morning (eleven at night on Tuesday in mainland Spain) of seven suspected of “printing or distributing seditious material ”And in a simultaneous raid on the office of Stand News, located in the Hong Kong district of Kwun Tong. The police left the digital media center six hours later with 33 boxes of evidence, including computers and journalistic material. The detainees’ homes were searched for more than four hours, according to the information collected by the local newspaper South China Morning Post.
Those arrested included the acting chief editor, Lam Shiu-tung, who announced his resignation immediately after his arrest, his predecessor until last month, Chung Pui-kuen, and the former editor of the Chow Tat-chi newspaper. Lam was escorted handcuffed to the office of Stand News shortly after eight in the morning.
Three women who had belonged to the board of directors although they had resigned in November have also been arrested. They are lawyer Margaret Ng (sentenced in April to 12 months in prison for her role in the 2019 protests, albeit with a two-year suspended sentence), singer and activist Denise Ho Wan (one of the most acquaintances of the opposition, who had even denounced before the UN Human Rights Council “the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy by China”) and Christine Fang Meng-sang, former director of the Hong Kong Social Services Council Kong.
The seventh detainee is Chan Pui-man, former associate editor of Apple Daily and Chung’s wife. Chan, in custody after being accused of collusion with foreign forces in July, has been arrested at the Tai Lam Center for Women for articles she allegedly wrote in Stand News.
Ronson Chan Ron-sing, subdirector de Stand News and president of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), was released at around 11:30 am, after being questioned for several hours by the police. Chan assured South China Morning Post that the agents have seized his electronic devices, his accreditation and his bank cards, and that at no time did they reveal the crimes for which he is being investigated.
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This is the first operation by the national security police against a media outlet for “seditious publications”, a crime contemplated under the Crimes Decree, from the colonial era, and which can be punished with up to two years in prison and one fine of 5,000 Hong Kong dollars (about 567 euros). The raid also comes less than 24 hours after Jimmy Lai and six former members of the Apple Daily this conspiracy charge. Lai and the other executives are accused of “conspiring with foreign forces”, a crime that together with secession, subversion or terrorism are punishable by life imprisonment under the National Security Law.
The journalists’ association has issued a statement on Wednesday morning in which it “urges the Government to protect press freedom in accordance with the Basic Law” and in which it is “deeply concerned” by the numerous arrests of members of the media that have been produced in the last year, as well as by the police records in the offices, in which a large amount of journalistic material is kept.
The Third Side center party, which has a seat in the Legislative Council (Legco, the autonomous parliament) after the recent elections “only for patriots”, has urged the Department of Homeland Security to reveal the reasons for the arrests, to avoid that concern is unleashed at the evident decrease in freedom of expression in the city.
After the police repression against the disappeared Apple Daily, Stand News became the first Hong Kong media outlet in June to implement preventive measures against the possibility of a raid on its offices: they stopped accepting donations and the comment option was removed from its platform in order to protect followers, authors and editors, claiming that “speech crimes” had reached Hong Kong.
Created in 2014 as a non-profit publication, Stand News covers politics, society and culture. Earlier this year it published an investigation into the Yuen Long incident in July 2019, when masked men attacked a group of pro-democracy protesters. It is the only Hong Kong medium that was part of the largest journalistic collaboration in history, the so-called Pandora Papers, which saw the light last October and in which EL PAÍS also participated.
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