Hong Kong barrister Margaret Ng – also an ex-director of the now-defunct online news outlet Stand News – has asked a local court to bar the police from reading and using legally privileged materials seized during her arrest a week ago.
The 73-year-old lawyer was among seven people rounded up by national security police last Wednesday on suspicion of breaching the colonial-era Crimes Ordinance by conspiring to publish seditious publications on Stand News.
The parent company of the independent media outlet and two of its former top editors – Chung Pui-kuen and Patrick Lam – were formally charged and remanded into custody pending trial, while Ng and three other former directors were released on police bail.
According to local media, Ng applied for a court order from the High Court on Tuesday to demand the police return some material obtained from the search of her home on Robinson Road on the day of her arrest.
The barrister submitted that, if the documents seized were protected under legal privilege, or if they did not fall within the ambit of the search warrant, they should be returned to her. She also urged the court to forbid the police from reviewing or accessing those materials.
Over 200 police officers conducted raids at Stand News’ office and the homes of the arrestees with a court warrant issued under the Implementation Rules for Article 43 of the Beijing-imposed national security law. Police said last Tuesday that the warrant authorised them to seize journalistic materials from the newsroom, but they did not mention whether they had permission to take documents protected under legal privilege.
Ng asked the court to hand down instructions to decide whether the documents seized by the police contained contested materials. If so, the force should return both the original documents and their copies to her. The court should also determine whether it is necessary for police to keep the original files even if none of them were protected by legal privilege, local media reported citing the application letter.
She warned she may demand compensation from the police if its search operation involved any infringement of rights.
Stand News halted its operations after seven years and deleted all content from its website and social media platforms following the arrests and raid. The authorities also froze its assets totalling HK$61 million.
Another independent online news outlet, Citizen News, announced four days later that it would close down, citing concerns over staff safety.
On Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam rebuffed claims that the city’s press freedom “faces collapse,” saying the closures of the two media organisations were unrelated to the implementation of the security legislation or press freedom.