Veteran Hong Kong journalist Allan Au was released on bail on Monday night following his arrest earlier that day for allegedly conspiring to publish seditious materials.

Leaving Kwai Chung Police Station just before midnight, Au joined his hands in a prayer position as reporters’ cameras flashed. “Thank you everyone for your concern,” he said, without answering any questions.

Allan Au was released from Kwai Chung Police Station on April 11, 2022. Photo: HKFP.

The 54-year-old journalist worked as a senior producer at TVB News and a radio host on RTHK, and was also a columnist for outlets including the now-defunct Stand News and Ming Pao. He was detained by police for over 17 hours after his arrest early on Monday morning.

Police said in a statement published later that afternoon that officers from the national security department had apprehended a 54-year-old male in Kwai Chung for alleged “conspiracy to publish seditious publication.” The arrestee was not named in the statement.

Au’s arrest was reportedly linked to the case of media outlet Stand News, which shut down after seven people linked to the outlet were arrested and its newsroom was raided last December.

The U.S. State Department’s spokesperson, Ned Price, urged the Hong Kong government to “free Allan Au and all others imprisoned for exercising their fundamental freedoms.”

‘End to press freedom’

Rights groups and journalism student organisations also spoke out about Au’s arrest, calling it a further blow to press freedom in Hong Kong.

“The line between ‘incitement’ and news reporting has become increasingly blurred, making it very difficult for journalists to do their work, and leading many to feel uneasy and fearful,” the Joint Society of Communication Schools – made up of student associations from the city’s journalism schools – said in a statement on Monday.

Reporters at a press conference. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association said it was “deeply concerned” about the arrest, adding that Au actively participated in the media industry and often shared his experience with the younger generation of reporters.

International media watchdog Reporters without Borders (RSF) wrote: “The detention of a third journalist from Stand News two months after the media’s forced shutdown shows the government’s determination to put an end to press freedom in the territory.”

In December, Stand News’ chief editors Patrick Lam and Chung Puk-kuen were charged with allegedly conspiring to publish seditious publications. They were denied bail and are due to appear in court on Wednesday.

Police hauled out boxes from Stand News’ office during the December raid. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Au, who is also a consultant for the Chinese University’s journalism school, is the latest person to be arrested under the anti-sedition legislation.

Last amended in the 1970s when Hong Kong was still under British colonial rule, the sedition law falls under the city’s Crimes Ordinance. It is separate from the Beijing-imposed national security law, and outlaws incitement to violence, disaffection and other offences against the authorities.

In a December report, RSF warned that Hong Kong’s press freedom was in “free fall.” The city’s place on the watchdog’s press freedom index has fallen from 18th place in 2002 to 80th place in 2021.

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