The lead prosecutor in the case against the now-defunct independent news outlet Stand News has claimed that one of the arrested editors has shares in the firm’s parent company, as Best Pencil (Hong Kong) Limited remains unrepresented in court.
On Wednesday, 52-year-old former editor-in-chief Chung Pui-kuen and former acting chief editor Patrick Lam, 34, appeared before Principal Magistrate Peter Law at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts.
Along with Best Pencil (Hong Kong) Limited, they face charges of conspiring to publish “seditious publications” under the colonial-era Crimes Ordinance after the newsroom was raided last December.
Chung and Lam attended court in person after missing the last hearing due to a Correctional Services Department (CSD) Covid-19 lockdown at detention facilities. Dozens of former Stand News staff members lined up outside the court in support.
Among the supporters in the public gallery was veteran journalist Allan Au, who was released on bail following his arrest two days ago for allegedly conspiring to publish seditious materials.
Best Pencil (Hong Kong) Limited did not have a representative present – its sole director, Tony Tsoi, was also absent. However, lead prosecutor Laura Ng summoned a police officer to testify that summons had been sent out since April 6, adding that the firm was still listed on the Companies Registry.
The prosecutor said that, according to documents found during the December 29 police raid last year, Best Pencil (Hong Kong) Limited was fully owned by an overseas company called Web Network Limited. That company, in turn, was owned by another overseas firm. Chung, Tsoi and Yu Ka-fai, a former board member of Stand News, are current directors of both companies.
The prosecutor said this has indicated that Chung owned shares in Best Pencil (Hong Kong) Limited through overseas companies. Both Chung and Lam have said they will not represent the company.
The duo did not apply for bail and have been detained for 104 days as of Wednesday.
The next hearing is scheduled for May 3, as the case is moved to the District Court.
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. Allan Au, whose opinion articles had been published on Stand News regularly, was then arrested on Monday.
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 operations, 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 have defended the enforcement of the national security law, maintaining that the city’s press freedom has been unaffected.