Hong Kong National Security Police raided the offices of a leading pro-democracy news outlet and arrested six people, including senior journalists, extending a showdown with the city’s media and opposition activists.
More than 200 police officers rallied Wednesday morning at the offices of Stand News, an independent newspaper known for its critical coverage of government policy. According to police, current and former senior executives have been arrested for an alleged “conspiracy to publish a rebellious publication” under British colonial law.
Among the individuals were Chung Pui-kuen, the newspaper’s former editor-in-chief who resigned last month, and acting editor-in-chief Patrick Lam, according to a person familiar with the issue and local media.
Denise Ho, a famous Hong Kong singer and opposition activist, and Margaret Ng, a former member of parliament, both former members of the news committee, were also arrested.
The incursion came six months after it was Apple Daily, a pro-democracy paper forced to close when authorities froze her property and arrested a number of high-ranking journalists. Jimmy Lai, the founder of the company who is in jail in connection with separate charges, and six former senior Apple Daily employees were also charged with rebellious publishing on Tuesday.
Dozens of opposition activists have fled the city or was arrested after Beijing imposed a comprehensive national security law that went into effect last year in response to pro-democracy protests that engulfed the city in 2019.
Numerous high profile journalists were arrested in the last two years, and foreign journalists have been denied visas to work in the territory.
Critics say the latest moves have jeopardized media freedom in the city, despite Beijing’s promises to protect the media and freedom of speech 50 years after Hong Kong was handed over from British to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
“The arrests, which took place just before the new year, sent a strong signal,” said Grace Leung, a lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who specializes in media regulation and policy.
“Further [extends the] cooling effect. . . with many [journalists] I already feel uncomfortable, ”she added. “Other media outlets may continue to do their job, but no one knows when the next one will be targeted and there seems to be no way to prevent it.”
According to a police statement, the officers used a search warrant under the National Security Act that allowed them to search and seize journalistic materials during the raid.
Ronson Chan, a senior editor at Stand News and president of the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association, was taken from his home by police, according to the newspaper’s website. The report did not say whether he had been arrested.
Chris Tang, the city’s security secretary, publicly criticized Stand News this month, saying reporting on the government was “biased, misleading and demonizing”.
Stand News has been nominated this year for the Reporters Without Borders award for media freedom, a Paris-based media rights group reported last month.
In its latest report, RSF warned that Hong Kong was in a “free fall” under national security law, while officials are considering bills on “fake news” that many worry will further curb tolerance of critical reporting.