Hong Kong independent news outlet shuts down to 'ensure safety'

·3-min read
Hong Kong has been increasingly cracking down on the independent media -- after raids on StandNews, seen here, another outlet, CitizenNews announced its closure (AFP/Daniel SUEN) (Daniel SUEN)

Hong Kong's CitizenNews announced late Sunday that it will shut down to "ensure the safety of everyone", three days after the city's national security police raided another independent online news outlet over allegations of sedition.

CitizenNews, a crowd-funded non-partisan platform founded in 2017 by a group of veteran journalists, is one of the most popular online news outlets in Hong Kong, with more than 800,000 followers across its social media platforms.

Over the past year, it had absorbed journalists from other outlets as authorities tightened their control over Hong Kong's local press.

Mainstream media organisations like Radio Television Hong Kong were taken over by pro-government leaders, while the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper was charged as a national security threat and forced to shut down.

Late Sunday, CitizenNews announced "with a heavy heart" that it would cease operations on Tuesday and its website would shut down "later".

"Sadly, we can no longer strive to turn our beliefs into reality without fear because of the sea change in the society over the past two years and the deteriorating media environment," it said in a statement.

"In the face of a crisis, we must ensure the safety and well-being of everyone who are on board," it added.

Four of CitizenNews' co-founders are former presidents of the Hong Kong Journalists' Association.

The 53-year-old association is one of the last professional groups that remains standing after more than 50 civil society organisations disbanded over the past year under political pressure and arrests.

- Raids, arrests -

China has tightened its control over Hong Kong since massive and often violent pro-democracy protests engulfed the city in 2019, including by cracking down on Hong Kong's once boisterous and pluralistic local press.

Last Wednesday, more than 200 officers led by the city's national security police unit raided the newsroom of StandNews, an outlet similar to CitizenNews, and arrested seven current and former members.

StandNews announced its closure hours later.

Its co-founder Chung Pui-kuen and last chief editor Patrick Lam were charged with "conspiracy to publish seditious publications" and denied bail.

In August 2020 and in June 2021, national security police raided the newsroom of Apple Daily, a Chinese tabloid founded in 1995 that was unapologetically critical of Beijing.

Eight of Apple Daily's senior editors and executives -- including its founder, pro-democracy tycoon Jimmy Lai -- were arrested and charged with "collusion with foreign forces" under a new national security law imposed by Beijing on the city, as well as "conspiracy to publish seditious publications".

Apple Daily was forced to shut down in June 2021 and a court order to wind up the company has been handed down.

The StandNews raid, like the Apple Daily ones before it, was met with international censure and concern about press freedom in Hong Kong.

"Journalism is not sedition," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said while she agreed with Blinken's sentiment, seditious acts "could not be condoned under the guise of news reporting".

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