A pro-democracy media outlet in Hong Kong said it would shut down after police raided its offices on Wednesday, arrested senior staff on suspected “seditious publication” offences and froze assets worth £5.8m.
The police action prompted censure from the Committee to Protect Journalists and the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva which said it was alarmed at the “extremely rapid closing of the civic space and outlets for Hong Kong’s civil society to speak and express themselves freely”.
Stand News, set up in 2014 as a non-profit organisation, was the most prominent remaining pro-democracy publication in Hong Kong after a national security investigation this year led to the closure of jailed tycoon Jimmy Lai’s Apple Daily tabloid.
The raid raises more concerns about press freedom in the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise that a wide range of individual rights would be protected.
“Because of the situation, Stand News is now stopping operations,” the publication said in a Facebook post. “Acting editor in chief Patrick Lam has resigned and all Stand News employees are dismissed.”
Hundreds of Hong Kong national security police personnel raided the office earlier in the day and arrested seven people for “seditious publications”. Police alleged that the online news site published stories that incited hatred against authorities and officers seized approximately £47,000 of cash from its offices.
Steve Li, head of the police national security department, told reporters Stand News had published news and commentary inciting hatred against authorities.
He said some of the articles claimed protesters went missing during the city’s 2019 pro-democracy unrest or were sexually harassed, which he called “factually baseless” and “malicious”. Mr Li also said some articles falsely claimed the Communist Party extended its powers through the city’s independent courts or called for foreign sanctions.
Mr Li added that police seized assets worth 61 million Hong Kong dollars (£5.8m) as well as computers, phones and journalistic materials, and that he did not rule out further arrests.
Stand News is the second outlet in Hong Kong to face charges for promoting “seditious materials” after the now-defunct pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper. Its owner, Jimmy Lai, as well as six other senior employees, were slapped with new sedition charges earlier this week.
SCMP reported that Stand News’s bank account has also been frozen. Further details of the alleged offences are expected to be disclosed at a press conference later in the day.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) said in a statement it was “deeply concerned” with the arrests of members of the media in the past year.
It added that the “association urges the government to protect press freedom in accordance with the basic law”.