Hong Kong police raided the office of a local media outlet and arrested six current and former staff on Wednesday, deepening fears for press freedom in a territory where media rights have been massively curtailed in recent years.
Suppression of Hong Kong’s local press has increased in the wake of 2019’s huge and often violent democracy protests and Beijing’s subsequent imposition of a sweeping national security law.
More than 200 officers were deployed to search the Stand News newsroom with court authorization to seize journalistic materials, police said, confirming six arrests.
The Committee to Protect Journalists described the raid as “an open assault on Hong Kong’s already tattered press freedom” and called for charges to be dropped.
An AFP reporter saw Stand News acting editor-in-chief Patrick Lam being led handcuffed into the office.
Police also arrested former editor-in-chief Chung Pui-kuen, as well as four board members who resigned in June, according to local media.
Around Wednesday lunchtime, national security police could be seen hauling boxes from Stand News’ office.
‘Professional news reporting’
Shortly before dawn, Stand News had broadcast live on Facebook that national security police were outside the door of deputy assignment editor Ronson Chan.
In the brief video, officers were seen telling Chan they had a warrant to investigate charges of “conspiracy to publish seditious publication” — an offence under a British colonial-era law.
Chan said police confiscated some of his electronic devices after a home search, but he was not arrested.
“Stand News has always conducted professional news reporting, this is beyond doubt,” Chan told reporters. “Criminal charges won’t change this fact.”
At least four other Stand News staff members were visited by police and had their homes searched, a source told AFP.
The former Stand News board members arrested Wednesday are Hong Kong pop star Denise Ho, barrister Margaret Ng, Christine Fang and Chow Tat-chi, according to local media reports.
Founded as a non-profit online news outlet in 2014, Stand News was nominated for Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Prize in November.
During the 2019 democracy protests, police clashed with several of the outlet’s reporters and one journalist — known for her Facebook live broadcasts — captured footage of a mob attack at a train station, continuing the feed even as the assailants turned on her.
Stand News is the second Hong Kong media company targeted by the authorities after Apple Daily, which shut down in June after its assets were frozen under the national security law.
Following reports of Wednesday’s raid, Taiwan’s ruling party accused Beijing of destroying Hong Kong’s democracy and freedom.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club — representing local and international media workers respectively — both said they were “deeply concerned” by the arrests and called for press freedom to be respected.
Meanwhile, exiled activist Nathan Law tweeted that the arrests illustrated the persecution of journalists and media that “dare to challenge them and speak the truth”.
United States-based activist Brian Leung called Stand News “one of the last remnants of independent journalism in Hong Kong”.
City authorities have repeatedly criticised Stand News, with security chief Chris Tang this month accusing it of publishing “biased, smearing and demonising” reports on prison conditions.
Hong Kong has long served as a regional media hub, though it has tumbled down press freedom rankings in recent years as Beijing asserts greater control over the city.