A pro-democracy website in Hong Kong was shut down Wednesday after police raided its offices, froze its assets and arrested staff on “seditious publication” charges in the latest crackdown on dissent under China’s strict national security law.
Stand News, which launched operations in 2014, said on its Facebook page that all employees have been dismissed and that its website and social media accounts will no longer be updated.
“This morning (29th), the police arrested a number of senior and former senior staff of the company, took many people away to assist in the investigation, and seized a number of computers and some documents at the Stand News Office,” the statement said. “Stand News has provided assistance to those involved.”
The website was one of the last pro-democracy outlets in Hong Kong, which is semi-autonomous but has come under increasing pressure from China, after the Apple Daily newspaper was closed in June. In that case, Apple Daily’s publisher, editor and other top staffers were arrested and its assets were also frozen.
Li Kwai-wah, senior superintendent of the police National Security Department, said Stand News published news and commentary intended to incite hatred toward the government.
He also claimed that the website’s articles about how the Chinese Communist Party has amassed power in the city’s court system are false.
China passed the national security law in June 2020 to stifle criticism about the ruling Communist Party.
The draconian law criminalizes “secession, subversion, organization and perpetration of terrorist activities, and collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security.”
China passed the law following months of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that began in 2019 over an extradition bill that would have allowed detainees in Hong Kong to be returned to mainland China for trial. The bill was later withdrawn.
Police said about 200 officers raided Stand News’ offices, taking computers and phones, as well as seizing assets worth about $7.82 million.
Six people were arrested and identified by Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper as one current and one former editor of Stand News and four former board members, including pop singer and activist Denise Ho and former lawmaker Margaret Ng.
Earlier Wednesday, Stand News posted a video on Facebook of police officers at the home of a deputy editor, Ronson Chan. Chan, who is also chair of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, was taken away for questioning, the organization confirmed in a statement.
Chan, who was later released, told media the police seized his electronic devices, bank cards and press card.
“We are not targeting reporters, we are not targeting the media, we just targeted national security offenses,” Li said at a news conference. “If you only report, I don’t think this is a problem.”
Li also advised the media: “Don’t be biased. You know well how to report, how to be a responsible reporter, how to make a non-biased report to your readers.”
The Hong Kong Journalists Association said in a statement that it was “deeply concerned that the police have repeatedly arrested senior members of the media and searched the offices of news organizations containing large quantities of journalistic materials within a year.”
With Post wires