Stand News editor-in-chief Chung Pui-kuen and acting editor-in-chief Patrick Lam were arrested last December and charged under the sedition law of “conspiracy to publish and reproduce seditious publications”.
Both the journalists, arrested during the government’s crackdown on dissent following the 2019 pro-democracy protest, have pleaded not guilty.
If convicted, they face up to two years in prison under the colonial-era law, which critics have accused the government of misusing to stifle opposition voices.
Stand News was one of the city’s only remaining critical voices after the closure of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper. Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai faces collusion charges under the draconian national security law (NSL) enacted in 2020.
“We remain deeply concerned about the deterioration in protection for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the systematic dismantling of Hong Kong’s autonomy under the national security law,” said state department spokesperson Ned Price on Wednesday.
“These include increased efforts to wield the NSL to suppress independent media, to silence dissenting views, and to stifle freedom of speech.”
The holding company of Stand News, Best Pencil (Hong Kong) Limited, faces the same charge of conspiracy to publish seditious materials.
Stand News shut down in December after the arrests of its editors and raids which saw more than 200 officers of the national security police descend on its office and nearly £6.7m of the company’s assets frozen.
The editors have been accused of “inciting hatred” against the government through 17 articles and three videos that were published on the news website.
Ahead of the opening statements on Monday, the judge heard arguments from both sides about which articles could be included as part of the prosecution’s case.
The trial is overseen by district court judge Kwok Wai-kin, who was handpicked by the government to try national security offences.
The city fell 68 places to 148th in Reporters Without Borders’ latest World Press Freedom Index released in May. Last week, it fell three places to 22nd in the latest Rule of Law Index compiled by the World Justice Project.
Meanwhile, two Hongkongers were found guilty on a sedition charge last week for clapping and criticising the judge during a previous trial over a banned Tiananmen Square vigil in the city.
Garry Pang Moon-yuen, a pastor, and Chiu Mei-ying, a homemaker were arrested in April for disturbances they made in a court hearing in January.