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Hong Kong reporters arrested over 'seditious publications'

December 29, 2021

Pro-democracy outlet Stand News has announced it will stop operating after police arrested several of its current and former staff for "conspiracy to publish seditious publications."

Editor of "Stand News" Patrick Lam, second from left, is arrested by police officers in Hong Kong
Stand News editor Patrick Lam, second from left, is seen arrested by police officersImage: Vincent Yu/AP/picture alliance

Police in Hong Kong arrested seven senior current and former staff members of online media organization Stand News on Wednesday.

The group was arrested for "conspiracy to publish seditious publications," the government said in a press release.

The official police statement did not identify those who were arrested but said they were three men and three women, aged 34 to 73.

News agency AFP reported that Stand News acting editor-in-chief Patrick Lam was being led away in handcuffs.

Former editor-in-chief Chung Pui-kuen and four board members who resigned in June were among those arrested, according to local media.

Later Wednesday, Stand News announced its closure. 

Police raid office, houses

The national security police were seen hauling boxes from the Stand New office around lunchtime Wednesday, AFP reported.

Hong Kong police said in a press release that they had conducted a search against an "online media company," deploying over "200 uniformed and plainclothes police officers."

DW correspondent Phoebe Kong told DW that the more than 200 officers deployed to search the office of Stand News confiscated materials and documents.

She also said officers of the Hong Kong police's national security department searched the home of Hong Kong Journalists Association chairman Ronson Chan.

Stand News shuts down: DW's Phoebe Kong

Chan, who is also a deputy editor at Stand News, said that police confiscated his computer, mobile telephone, tablet device, press pass, and bank records during the early morning raid. 

He was taken away for questioning but was later released, his organization said.

"Stand News has always conducted professional news reporting, this is beyond doubt," Chan told reporters. "Criminal charges won't change this fact."

Police said in a statement that they were conducting a search with a warrant authorizing them "to search and seize relevant journalistic materials."

Stand News posted a video on Facebook of police officers saying they had a warrant to investigate the "conspiracy to publish a publication of seditious publications." 

Police were also searching the homes of Chan's colleagues from Stand News, according to Kong.

A 'dangerous precedent'

Eric Lai, Hong Kong law fellow at Georgetown University's Center for Asian Law, told DW that the arrests were a "dangerous precedent" as the government can arrest people "retroactively."

"The charge of seditious publication was also used to charge the unionists who published the children's book a few months ago," Lai said, referring to five people being detained in July for publishing a book called "Defenders of the Sheep Village."

"It was quite disturbing because seditious law in Hong Kong is a kind of speech crime that the government can use whenever it needs once they interpret any expression or publications that are anti-government."

Lai warned that charges of seditious publication would have an "unprecedented" and "chilling effect" throughout the city.

"It would force the newspapers in Hong Kong to decide if they still want to act independently and critically of the government," he added.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) described the raid as "an open assault on Hong Kong's already tattered press freedom" and called for charges to be dropped.

A crackdown on dissent

This is not the first time Hong Kong police have conducted raids on journalists.

In June, hundreds of police raided the premises of the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily. The paper's executives were arrested for "collusion with a foreign country."

Hong Kong prosecutors filed an additional "seditious publications" charge against Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai on Tuesday.

Hong Kong passed a controversial national security law in June of last year.

Earlier this month, Hong Kong held a "patriots-only" legislative election, which critics said marginalized pro-democracy candidates.  

DW's William Yang in Taipei contributed to this report.

mvb, sdi/dj (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)