Over 200 national security police officers were deployed on Wednesday to raid the offices of non-profit online news outlet Stand News.
Six current and former senior staff members were also arrested on suspicion of breaching the colonial-era Crimes Ordinance by conspiring to publish seditious publications.
The arrested persons included three men and three women, aged 34 to 73. Police said they are currently searching their residences.
Local media cited sources as saying acting chief editor Patrick Lam and former editor-in-chief Chung Pui-kuen were arrested along with Chow Tat-chi, former director and ex-chief editor of the science section. Sources say Lam immediately stepped down from his position.
Former board members Christine Fang, pro-democracy singer Denise Ho and barrister Margaret Ng were also reportedly arrested.
Deputy assignment editor Ronson Chan – who also chairs the Hong Kong Journalists Association – was reportedly held for investigation. Chan was filmed being taken away by five national security police officers to “assist in investigations.”
He said in the video that his home was raided and he was to be taken to other locations for police searches.
Chan was filmed being taken away by five national security police officers to “assist in investigations.” Chan said in the video that his home was raided and he was to be taken to other locations for police searches. https://t.co/Fd798Glect pic.twitter.com/AGqcGI0Mqn— Hong Kong Free Press HKFP (@hkfp) December 29, 2021
At least four Stand News staff have taken in by police for investigation in total, including Chan and features editor Kenny Leung, sources told HKFP.
Ho said on Facebook she was arrested on suspicion of “conspiracy to distribute seditious publications” and taken to Western District Police Station.
Police said they had a warrant issued for the office raid under Schedule 1 of the Implementation Rules for Article 43 of the national security law.
An officer on scene said they have gathered around 30 boxes of evidences to be taken away. Men in plain clothes and police vests were seen taking suitcases from the newsroom.
‘Biased, smearing’ reporting
On December 3, security chief Chris Tang accused the news outlet of “biased, smearing and demonising” reporting about the city’s smart prison initiative.
The not-for-profit online news source was founded in December 2014 and has a pro-democracy slant. It is the successor to House News, which was closed in July 2014 with its founder Tony Tsoi citing safety fears.
It was nominated for the Reporters Without Borders’s 2021 Press Freedom Prize for Independence in November.
Chung stepped down as editor-in-chief in November. His wife, Chan Pui-man, was a former associate editor at the now-defunct, pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily. Chan is among the seven former top executives and writers at the paper facing national security charges and remains behind bars pending trial.
Apple Daily, formerly the city’s most widely-read newspaper, was closed in June after a national security crackdown saw its leadership arrested and charged under the law and its assets frozen. Its leadership and journalists stand accused of conspiring to collude with foreign forces to impose sanctions on local and central officials.
Just after the Apple Daily raid, Stand News removed all opinion pieces from their website. It also halted donations as six of the board’s eight members stepped down.
Wednesday’s raid comes a day after a fresh charge related to alleged seditious publications was levied against ex-Apple Daily journalists and Lai in court.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association said 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. HKJA urges the government to protect press freedom in accordance with the Basic Law,” it said.
The city’s press union and foreign press club have both voiced concerns over the state of the city’s press freedoms since Apple Daily’s closure. A survey conducted among reporters last month found almost half of around 100 respondents were considering or had plans to leave the city due to worsening working conditions. Beijing deemed the survey to be “interference.”
Correction 09:30am: An early version of this article stated Stand News had won the Reporters Without Borders prize, in fact it was only nominated.