Friday, September 30, 2022

Hong Kong police raid pro-democracy news outlets, arrest six including senior employees

Hundreds of Hong Kong’s National Security Police raided the offices of online pro-democracy media outlet Stand News on Wednesday, arresting six people, including senior staff, on charges of “conspiracy to publish a seditious publication”.

Stand News – founded in 2014 as a non-profit publication – is the foremost remaining pro-democracy publication in Hong Kong after a national security investigation earlier this year that led to the closure of jailed tycoon Jimmy Lai’s iconic Apple Daily tabloid been done.

The raid raised concerns about freedom of speech and the media in the former British colony, which returned in 1997 under Chinese rule with the promise of a wide range of individual rights.

Police said in a statement that they were entering the premises with a warrant that authorized them to “search and seize relevant journalistic material”.

The man took the police vehicle.
Patrick Lamm, the acting editor-in-chief of Stand News, is one of six people arrested “for conspiracy to publish a seditious publication,” according to police.,Reuters: Tyrone Siu,

Ronson Chan, deputy assignment editor of Stand News and head of the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA), was not among those arrested.

However, he said, his computer, iPhone, iPad, press pass and banking records were confiscated by the police during a morning search of his residence.

“Stand News has always delivered news professionally,” he said.

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Stand News posted a video of police arriving at Mr. Chan’s residence.

“The allegation was a conspiracy to publish seditious publications. This is a court warrant and this is my warrant card. Your phone is obstructing our work,” an official said.

Other senior staff could not be reached for comment.

The Stand News office – in an industrial building in the Kwan Tong working class district – was partially closed, with several police milling about the lobby and four vans parked below.

Officers were seen loading about three dozen boxes of documents and other materials seized as evidence on a truck.

Steven Butler, Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the police action was “an open assault on Hong Kong’s already eroded press freedom”.

The government’s Security Bureau did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The authorities have repeatedly said that all prosecutions are based on evidence and have nothing to do with the profession of those arrested.

Treason is not among the crimes listed under a comprehensive national security law Beijing imposed on the city in June 2020.

The new laws make terrorism, collusion with foreign forces, subversion and secession punishable by potentially life imprisonment.

Movers collect boxes of evidence in the van after a police search at Stand News' office.
The raids have further heightened concerns about freedom of speech and the media in Hong Kong.,Reuters: Tyrone Siu,

However, recent court rulings have freed officials to use the powers conferred by the new law to enforce previously less used colonial-era laws, including the Crimes Ordinance that covered treason. .

Officials say the national security law has restored order after an often violent pro-democracy unrest in 2019 and does not curtail rights and freedoms.

Critics say the law is a tool to quell dissent and has set the global financial center on an authoritarian path.

In June, hundreds of police raided the premises of Apple Daily, arresting officers on charges of “collusion with a foreign country.”

The newspaper was later closed after the police confiscated his property.

On Tuesday, prosecutors filed a “seditious publication” charge against Mr. Lai and six other former Apple Daily employees in addition to earlier charges.

The chargesheet said their publications could bring “hatred or contempt” or “incite discontent” against the Hong Kong and Chinese governments.

Police did not disclose which articles in Apple Daily or Stand News they believed to be seditious.

Speech crimes in Hong Kong

The Stand News Charter states that it will be independent, autonomous and committed to defending Hong Kong’s core values ​​of “democracy, human rights, the rule of law and justice”.

Following the Apple Daily raid, Stand News said it would stop accepting donations from readers and had removed comments from the platform to protect supporters, writers and editorial staff, saying “speech crimes” occurred in Hong Kong. Were.

Police are seen outside the Stand News office building.
Critics say the national security law passed last year is a means to quell dissent.,Reuters: Tyrone Siu,

The June announcement said senior barrister and former Democratic legislator Margaret Ng, pop singer Dennis Ho and four others had resigned from its board, with two remaining founding directors, Tony Tsoi, and former editor-in-chief Chung Pui-kuen.

Local media said the six people arrested on Wednesday included Ng, Ho, Chung, acting editor-in-chief Patrick Lam and two former board members Chow Tat-chi and Christine Feng.

In a separate statement, police said they have arrested three men and three women, aged between 34 and 73, and that searches are on at their homes.

It did not name those arrested, which was in line with common practice.

According to reporters at the scene, the Stand News Bureau – located in an industrial building in the Kwan Tong working class district – was partially closed, with several police milling about the lobby and four vans parked below.

A police media liaison officer on the 14th floor said entry into the office would not be allowed in view of the “ongoing operation”.

The HKJA said in a statement that it is “deeply concerned that police have repeatedly arrested senior members of the media and searched the offices of news organizations containing large amounts of journalistic material”.



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