Hong Kong police started archiving more than 300 articles by online outlet Stand News on the same day that popular pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily shuttered, a court has heard, as the sedition trial against Stand News continued.
Former Stand News chief editors Chung Pui-kuen, 52, Patrick Lam, 34, and the outlet’s parent company Best Pencil (Hong Kong) Limited, who each face a charge of conspiring to publish “seditious publications,” appeared before Judge Kwok Wai-kin at the Wan Chai District Court on Friday.
As the trial entered its fourth day, a police officer from the National Security Department who was responsible for “preserving evidence” took the stand. He testified that he had received an order from a superior to archive “as many [Stand News articles] as possible” on June 24, 2021, Apple Daily’s last day of operations. The superior had learned from a source that Stand News was planning to take down some of its articles, the officer said.
On June 17, five Apple Daily executives were arrested under the national security law on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces. On June 27, Stand News announced it would remove opinion articles and columns published before May and stop accepting donations in order to reduce risk under the national security law, which was enacted in June 2020.
The officer said he took screenshots of over 300 articles, an amount that came as a surprise to the court, as only 30 were submitted to the prosecution and the defence.
Defence counsel Audrey Eu expressed her “dissatisfaction” towards the prosecution, as all disclosable materials should have been submitted to the defence. “We need to know what materials you didn’t pick as evidence, or why you ignored other fair news reports [published by Stand News],” Eu said.
In light of this new evidence, Eu said the trial might exceed the scheduled 20 days, adding that Lam and Chung – who have been in remand since December – could be held in custody longer than their actual sentences. Sedition carries a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment.
“The new development is unexpected. Even though I’ll try my best to help my client, still I would like to express my dissatisfaction,” Eu said.
The trial will continue on Monday.
In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.
The anti-sedition legislation, which was last amended in the 1970s when Hong Kong was still under British colonial rule, 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.
Non-profit online news outlet Stand News ceased operations last December after its newsroom was raided by more than 200 national security police officers. Seven people connected to the publication – including Chung and Lam – were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to publish seditious publications.