The independent news site announced on its Facebook page that it had ceased operations and laid off all employees, with immediate effect. The statement said Stand News will immediately stop updating its website and social media accounts, which will be removed in a few days.
At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Steve Li Kwai-wah, chief superintendent of the Hong Kong Police Department’s National Security Department, said the arrests were linked to several “seditious” articles published by the outlet. between July 2020 and November 2021.
Li also said that police raided the media office in the Kwun Tong area and froze around 61 million Hong Kong dollars ($ 7.8 million) in company assets.
Some 200 police officers were involved in the raid on the newsroom, where they seized journalistic material, according to a government statement earlier Wednesday.
The arrests included Ho and Margaret Ng, a former pro-democracy lawmaker and prominent lawyer, both former members of the media’s board. Former Stand News editor Chung Pui-kuen and interim editor Patrick Lam were also arrested, according to the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA).
While a first government notice published on Wednesday referred to a “conspiracy to publish seditious publications” – allegations that stem from a colonial-era crimes ordinance – police officers implicated in the Stand case News are national security officers.
An eventful year for the press
The city’s once vibrant media landscape has withered since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the city in 2020, which led to the fiercely pro-democracy outlet Apple Daily shutting down earlier this year.
“The Hong Kong Journalists Association is deeply concerned that the police have repeatedly arrested senior media officials and searched news agency offices containing large amounts of journalistic material in the space of ‘one year, “the HKJA said in a statement on Wednesday, adding that it had urged the government to” protect press freedom in accordance with the Basic Law, “the city’s de facto constitution since 1997.
Ronson Chan Ron-sing, deputy editor of Stand News and president of HKJA, was also “taken away by the police”, according to the association.
Stand News had posted a video of police arriving at Chan’s home for a raid earlier Wednesday morning. Chan later told local media in Hong Kong that he had not been arrested.
Ho, the Cantonese pop star and prominent pro-democracy activist, was arrested at her home at 6 a.m. on Wednesday, according to her assistant, who requested anonymity.
Police spent more than two hours at the singer’s home and seized phones and computers as well as her ID card and passport, her assistant told CNN Business.
Police at the Stand News office on Wednesday gathered about 30 boxes of “evidence,” a police press secretary at the site told CNN Business.
Hong Kong officials have defended Wednesday’s arrests as necessary to prevent “bad apples” from misrepresenting themselves as the media.
“Anyone who attempts to use media work as a tool to pursue their political objective or other interests is breaking the law, especially offenses that endanger national security,” Hong Kong Chief Secretary said, John Lee, questioned by reporters about the arrests in a press event.
“These are the evil elements that undermine press freedom. Media professionals should recognize that it is bad apples who abuse their position just by wearing a fake media worker coat,” Lee added.
‘The stakes are high’
The HKJA continued to defend press freedom, despite criticism from Hong Kong officials and Chinese state media.
The latest police actions came hours after the HKJA hosted its annual dinner on Tuesday, which had been delayed by more than a year due to coronavirus restrictions.
“We know the stakes are high, but press freedom has been the backbone of Hong Kong’s success,” Chan said in a speech at the dinner. “Hong Kong will always need the truth as well as journalists. No matter how difficult the road ahead, the association will strive never to fail.”
It was considered one of the city’s most vocal media outlets, often publishing hard-hitting reports even after the National Security Law was enacted.
The raids on Stand News also come a day after jailed Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai was charged with conspiring to print, publish and distribute seditious publications, the same charge that authorities now accuse Stand News affiliates.
A “shock wave through Hong Kong”
Speaking at the HKJA’s annual dinner on Tuesday, Chan described the arrest of Lai and her colleagues and the subsequent shutdown of Apple Daily as a “shock wave across Hong Kong” that “had an impact. important to the journalists who are still fighting on the front lines every day.
Chan also acknowledged the increasing difficulty for the HKJA to fill positions on its executive committee, due to concerns about their personal safety and career prospects.
“In fact, the post of vice president is still vacant and will remain so until November. It shows that many colleagues perceive that becoming a member of the HKJA executive committee could make life precarious,” Chan said.
In a statement released Wednesday, the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club said it was “deeply concerned” about the arrests associated with Stand News.
“These actions are yet another blow to press freedom in Hong Kong and will continue to cool the city’s media environment after a difficult year for the city’s media,” he said.
The National Security Law, which was drafted in Beijing and enacted in Hong Kong last year, criminalized acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security – with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for the four.
Since the law was enacted, the city’s pro-democracy camp has been virtually wiped out, with prominent figures in prison or in exile abroad. A series of civilian groups have disbanded and, more recently, several universities have overnight removed statues promoting democracy or commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre, raising concerns about campus freedoms.
The Hong Kong government has repeatedly denied criticism that the law stifled freedoms, saying instead that it restored order to the city after the 2019 protest movement.