A Hong Kong court has adjourned the return day for Stand News’ sedition case until April 13. Two former employees of the now-defunct Hong Kong independent news outlet and its parent company have been charged with allegedly conspiring to publish “seditious publications” under the colonial-era Crimes Ordinance.
Stand News’ 52-year-old former editor-in-chief Chung Pui-kuen, former acting chief editor Patrick Lam, 34, and the news outlet’s owner Best Pencil (Hong Kong) Limited were set to appear before Acting Chief Magistrate Peter Law at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on Friday afternoon.
However, neither of the editors, both of whom are remanded in custody, attended the hearing. The Correctional Services Department (CSD) has imposed a lockdown within detention centres as the city’s fifth Covid-19 wave has spread into correctional institutions.
Chung and Lam were represented by their counsels at the hearing, but Best Pencil did not have a representative present. The prosecution said the police confirmed on Friday that the company was still listed on the Companies Registry.
According to the prosecution, officers had visited the company’s registered address on February 18 and on Friday, but no one answered the door. The police left a notice telling the company to attend the hearing.
Without any objections from the defence, the magistrate approved the prosecution’s application to adjourn the case until April 13 for the prosecution to prepare required documents to transfer the case to the District Court, where the maximum sentence is seven years.
Chung and Lam have been denied bail and have been detained for 58 days as of Friday.
The two veteran journalists were among seven arrested on December 29, when the city’s national security police also raided the Stand News office. Within hours, the outlet announced its closure, marking the end of the seven-year-old pro-democracy leaning publication.
Prominent barrister Margaret Ng, Cantopop singer Denise Ho, former Stand News directors Christine Fang and Chow Tat-chi, and Chung’s wife Chan Pui-man were also arrested but were not officially charged. Apart from Chan, the former associate publisher of Apple Daily who is currently in custody awaiting another national security case, the others were released on bail on December 30.
The police also issued an arrest warrant for Tony Tsoi, one of Stand News’ founders who is based overseas.
The arrests prompted another independent online publication, Citizen News, to cease operation, citing fears for staff safety and that the outlet could no longer grasp the “legal boundaries.”
The Stand News arrests were condemned by multiple international bodies and countries. Beijing and Hong Kong authorities has defended the enforcement of the national security law, maintaining that the city’s press freedom has been unaffected.