A Hong Kong court has ruled that two former editors of independent outlet Stand News accused of conspiring to publish “seditious” articles have a case to answer, a day before the pair are set to testify in court.

Chung Pui-kuen, the former editor-in-chief of Stand News, and Patrick Lam, its former acting editor-in-chief, appeared in District Court on Monday, as the sedition trial against the shuttered news outlet entered its 16th day.

Stand News 20230109
Stand News’ former chief editors Chung Pui-kuen (left) and Patrick Lam (right) on January 9, 2023. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

A recording of Chung’s testimony, made the day he was arrested, was played in court on Monday. In it, the veteran journalist was asked to provide the names of reporters behind Stand News articles – including some with staff bylines – but he refused, telling national security police that he had final say over all Stand News content.

“I have nothing to say,” Chung said repeatedly when the police asked for names of reporters.

Chung was escorted to a room in the West Kowloon West Regional Police Headquarters on December 29, 2021, after he was arrested earlier that morning. A national security police officer handed two copies of the company registration to Chung, which showed that Chung had been a board member of Best Pencil Limited, Stand News’ parent company, before stepping down from the post in December 2021.

Police hauled out boxes from Stand News' office on Wednesday.
Police take boxes from Stand News’ office on December 29, 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

In the video, Chung agreed that he had been editor-in-chief of Stand News since the outlet was founded in 2014, and resigned from the post in October 2021. After his resignation, Patrick Lam – Stand News’ deputy chief editor at the time – became the outlet’s acting editor-in-chief.

The questioning

When asked about daily operations at Stand News, Chung was silent for almost a minute before responding: “I have nothing to say…Your question is too broad.” As the police officer continued to ask the same question, Chung said, “whenever there are topics I think need to be covered, I’ll ask my colleagues to cover them, then I’ll edit the piece, and decide whether to publish it.”

“So you have the final decision?” the officer asked. “Yes,” Chung said. “Is there anyone else who has a call on that, too?” the officer continued. “No,” Chung answered.

The police officer then asked Chung about how he decided whether to publish an article. “[The article has to be] based on facts,” Chung said, “and not violating the law.” He agreed that he would not publish an article if he knew it would violate the law.

Stand News Chung pui-kuen Patrick Lam
Chung Pui-kuen on December 13, 2022. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Regarding the 17 allegedly seditious Stand News articles that have been presented as evidence in the trial, the police officer asked Chung about his relationship with the interviewees and the op-ed writers, including Chung’s wife Chan Pui-man and veteran journalist Allan Au.

However, two of the articles were not published when Chung was at the helm. When asked if he was still involved with the outlet’s editorial work after his resignation, Chung asked to take a break, then told the police officer he had nothing to add.

Even though Chung did not provide the names of the reporters who wrote the 17 articles in question, the police officer who questioned Chung told the court on Tuesday that most of the authors had been identified by their bylines.

Stand News Chung pui-kuen Patrick Lam
Chung Pui-kuen and Patrick Lam on December 13, 2022. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

However, the officer told the court that they had misidentified the writer of one piece, mistakenly believing that a news story about Tiananmen vigil organiser and activist Chow Hang-tung’s response to being honoured with the Prominent Chinese Democracy Activist award, was written by Chow herself.

List of the 17 selected articles – Click to see
  1. Profile of Gwyneth Ho, a candidate in the 2020 legislative primaries held by the pro-democracy camp, published on July 7, 2020.
  2. Profile of Owen Chow, a candidate in the 2020 legislative primaries held by the pro-democracy camp, published on July 27, 2020.
  3. Profile of Fergus Leung, a candidate in the 2020 legislative primaries held by the pro-democracy camp, published on August 12, 2020.
  4. Commentary by Chan Pui-man, Apple Daily’s former associate publisher, criticising speech crimes, published on September 12, 2020.
  5. Commentary by Nathan Law, a former lawmaker now in self-exile, on “how to resist” under the national security law, published on September 20, 2020.
  6. Profile of Law on his “battlefront” of calling for sanctions on the Hong Kong government in the UK, published on December 9, 2020.
  7. Commentary by Law on “resilience in a chaotic world,” published on December 13, 2020.
  8. Feature interview with Ted Hui, a former lawmaker in self-exile, after he fled Hong Kong with his family, published on December 14, 2020.
  9. Feature interview with Baggio Leung, a former lawmaker in self-exile, as he called for sanctions on Hong Kong and a “lifeboat scheme for Hongkongers,” published on December 15, 2020.
  10. Commentary by Sunny Cheung, an activist in self-exile, responding to being wanted by the Hong Kong government, published on December 28, 2020.
  11. Commentary by Allan Au, a veteran journalist, on “new words in 2020,” which included “national security,” “disqualified” and “in exile,” published on December 29, 2020.
  12. Commentary by Au calling a national security trial a show, published on February 3, 2021.
  13. Commentary by Law paralleling the mass arrests of candidates in the democrats’ primaries to mass arrests during Taiwan’s white terror period, published on March 2, 2021.
  14. Commentary by Au accusing the authorities of “lawfare” in usage of the sedition law, published on June 1, 2021.
  15. Commentary by Au describing Hong Kong as a disaster scene after the implementation of national security law, published on June 22, 2021.
  16. Feature about CUHK graduates’ march on campus to mourn the second anniversary of the police-student clash in 2019, published on November 11, 2021.
  17. Report on Chow Hang-tung’s response to being honoured with the Prominent Chinese Democracy Activist award, published on December 5, 2021.

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. They were both granted bail after being held in custody for nearly a year.

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Lea Mok is a multimedia reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously contributed to StandNews, The Initium, MingPao and others. She holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.