Hong Kong Police Raid Pro-Democracy Stand News, Arrest Six

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HONG KONG, Dec.29 (Reuters) – Hundreds of Hong Kong national security police raided the offices of pro-democracy online media Stand News on Wednesday and arrested six people, including senior officials, for ” conspiracy to publish seditious publications “.

Stand News, established in 2014 as a nonprofit, is the largest pro-democracy publication remaining in Hong Kong after a national security investigation earlier this year led to the closure of the iconic tabloid Apple Daily of jailed mogul Jimmy Lai.

The raid further raises concerns about free speech and media 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.

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Police said in a statement they were conducting a search with a warrant “to search and seize relevant journalistic material.”

“More than 200 police officers in uniform and in civilian clothes were deployed during the operation. The search operation is underway,” the statement said.

Senior staff at Stand News could not be reached for comment.

Sedition is not among the offenses listed in the sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing on the city in June 2020 which punishes terrorism, collusion with foreign forces, subversion and secession with possible life imprisonment.

But recent court rulings have allowed authorities to use powers conferred by the new legislation to deploy previously little-used colonial-era laws, including the Crime Ordinance which covers sedition.

Authorities say the National Security Law restored order after the often violent pro-democracy unrest in 2019 and does not restrict rights and freedoms. Critics say the legislation is a tool to crush dissent and has put the world’s financial center on an authoritarian path.

In June, hundreds of police raided Apple Daily, arresting executives for “suspected collusion with a foreign country.” The newspaper subsequently closed after police froze its assets.

Prosecutors filed a “seditious publication” charge against Lai and six other former Apple Daily employees on Tuesday, in addition to earlier charges. The indictment said their posts could “stir up hatred or contempt” or “stir up disaffection” against the Hong Kong and Chinese governments.

Police had not disclosed which Apple Daily or Stand News stories they considered seditious.

‘SPEECH CRIMES’

Stand News’s charter states that it must be independent, self-reliant and committed to protecting Hong Kong’s core values ​​of “democracy, human rights, the rule of law and justice.”

After the Apple Daily raid, Stand News said it would stop accepting donations from readers and removed comments from the platform to protect supporters, writers and the editorial staff, adding that “crimes of ‘expression “had come to Hong Kong.

The June announcement said senior lawyer and former Democratic lawmaker Margaret Ng, pop singer Denise Ho and four others resigned from its board, the two founding directors Tony Tsoi and former editor in Chief Chung Pui-kuen, remaining.

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

Stand News posted a video of the police arriving at the residence of Ronson Chan, its deputy editor who is also the head of the Hong Kong Journalists Association.

“The charge was of conspiracy to publish seditious publications. Here is the court warrant and here is my warrant card. Your phone is hampering our work,” said an officer.

Local broadcaster Cable TV said Chan was not arrested and only helped with the investigation.

Police said in a separate statement they had arrested three men and three women, aged 34 to 73, and searches of their homes were underway. He did not name those arrested, in accordance with his usual practice.

The Stand News office in an industrial building in the working-class neighborhood of Kwun Tong was partially cordoned off, with dozens of police in the lobby and four vans parked below, according to a Reuters reporter at the scene.

A police media liaison officer on the 14th floor said entry into the office would not be permitted given an “operation in progress.”

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Additional reporting by Edmond Ng, Sara Cheng, Jessie Pang, Donny Kwok and Marius Zaharia. Written by Tony Munroe and Marius Zaharia Editing by Chris Reese and Michael Perry

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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