The former top editor of Stand News has denied the prosecution’s accusation that the now-defunct online outlet had served as a “platform” for democrats taking part in an election primary to clear controversies, a Hong Kong court has heard during the ongoing sedition trial against the publication.

The sedition trial against Stand News’ former chief editor Chung Pui-kuen, acting chief editor Patrick Lam and the outlet’s parent company – which was supposed to last for 20 days – entered its 30th day in front of Judge Kwok Wai-kin at the District Court on Tuesday.

Chung Pui-kuen, former chief editor of Stand News, at the District Court on January 26, 2023.
Chung Pui-kuen, former chief editor of Stand News, at the District Court. File photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

The three defendants are accused of conspiring to publish “seditious publications.” The charge is based on 17 articles published by the outlet between July 2020 and December 2021.

On Tuesday morning, lead prosecutor Laura Ng began questioning Chung over the first of the 17 articles admitted as evidence. It was an exclusive interview with former Stand News reporter Gwyneth Ho, who was a candidate in the 2020 democratic primary election, local media reported.

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.

*The published dates of the articles were listed according to both the prosecutor’s opening statement and HKFP’s database.

The unofficial primaries for the Legislative Council election, which was later postponed, led to 47 prominent democrats, including Ho, being charged over their role in an alleged conspiracy to commit subversion under the Beijing-imposed national security law. The trial of 16 among them who pleaded not guilty is currently underway.

Ng said Ho was challenged during primary election forums – co-hosted by Stand News – about why she had gone from being a journalist to become a politician, and whether it was for better pay. The profile in Stand News, Ng said, had “provided a platform” for Ho to defend her position.

Gwyneth Ho
Gwyneth Ho. File photo: Gwyneth Ho, via Facebook.

But Chung said he disagreed with the prosecutor’s description as the interview had been conducted ahead of the forums, adding that he and the reporter who wrote the piece had decided on the interview’s focus beforehand.

The former editor added that he thought Ho’s political ideas should be reported in detail as Ho was a new and rising political figure at that time with a high chance of winning in the primaries.

Supporting primaries ‘in principle’

The prosecutor then asked Chung why he said he personally supported the primaries knowing some candidates intended to “paralyse” the government by vetoing the upcoming budget.

In response, Chung said what he supported was the principle of a primary election, which would help to reflect the “real distribution of ballots” between camps without splitting them between different political parties.

“If the pro-establishment camp had [primaries], I would support that as well,” Chung said, adding that he would let the voters choose from different candidates and observe the outcome as a bystander.

“I would not cover up or deny anything for the purpose of defending myself. My views on political matters do not affect my judgement on journalistic work,” Chung said.

Non-profit digital news outlet Stand News ceased operations and deleted its website in December 2021 after its newsroom was raided by over 200 national security police officers. Seven people connected to the independent outlet were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to “publish seditious publications.” However, only ex-chief editor Chung Pui-kuen, acting chief editor Patrick Lam and parent company Best Pencil (Hong Kong) Limited were charged under the colonial-era law.

Advocacy groups, the UN, and western countries criticised the arrests as a sign of declining media freedoms, whilst now-Chief Executive John Lee condemned “bad apples” who “polluted” press freedom following the raids. The trial began in October 2022 with the court considering 17 allegedly seditious articles, including interviews, profiles, hard news reporting and opinion pieces. Sedition is not covered by the Beijing-imposed security law and carries a maximum penalty of two years behind bars.

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Peter Lee

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.