National Security Police in Hong Kong on Wednesday arrested seven people associated with Chinese-language online media company Stand News. They include pop star-turned-pro-democracy activist Denise Ho.
Later in the day, the publication dismissed all its staff and announced its immediate closure. It emerged that the police had seized HK$61 million ($7.8 million) of assets.
“Police National Security Department conducted a search against an online media company in Kwun Tong with a warrant issued under Schedule 1 of the Implementation Rules for Article 43 of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, authorizing Police to search and seize relevant journalistic materials. Over 200 uniformed and plainclothes police officers have been deployed during the operation,” said the Hong Kong government in a press statement on Wednesday morning.
The government statement did not identify the news outlet. But Stand News itself posted pictures of the police raid on its Facebook page. Ho, a former director of the publication, also used Facebook to confirm that she had been arrested on suspicion of “conspiracy to publish seditious publications” and taken to Western District police station.
.@inmedia reports Hong Kong national security police have arrested 6 senior media executives this morning, including Ronson Chan, head of @HKJA_Official, & have searched @StandNewsHK offices on suspicion of “publishing seditious publications”. pic.twitter.com/V1rMf4iXP9
— Kong Tsung-gan / 江松澗 (@KongTsungGan) December 28, 2021
Those arrested included the publication’s editor and former editor and Margaret Ng, a barrister and another former board member. Ronson Chan, head of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, was detained for questioning but was not arrested.
The mass arrests come just a day after the authorities leveled additional charges against publisher Jimmy Lai, six people and three companies associated with the now extinct news publication Apple Daily.
Next Digital’s former CEO Cheung Kim-hung, Apple Daily’s former editor-in-chief Ryan Law, executives Chan Pui-man and Lam Man-chun, writers Yeung Ching-kee and Fung Wai-kong were charged with “publishing and distributing seditious publications with the intention to bring into hatred or contempt, or excite disaffection against the [mainland China] and Hong Kong governments, as well as the judiciary of Hong Kong, between April 1, 2019 and June 24 this year. Apple Daily has already been dismantled and Lai jailed.
The National Security Law was brought in on June 30, 2020. Authorities have repeatedly stated that it does not have retrospective effect. The sedition law pre-dates the NSL and harks back to the British colonial era.
The former Apple Daily staff are also accused of “having the intention to raise discontent or disaffection among Hong Kong residents, incite people to violence, and counsel disobedience to law or any lawful order,” and with “conspiracy to collude with foreign forces between July 1 last year and June 24 this year.”
“The association urges the government to protect press freedom in accordance with the Basic Law,” a statement from the Hong Kong Journalists Association said in response to the Wednesday arrests and what it sees as continuing attacks on the media by government.
The Hong Kong government appeared unmoved by such criticism. At a press conference held later in the day John Lee, the city’s second ranking official, said: “Anybody who attempts to make use of media work as a tool to pursue their political purpose or other interests [and] contravenes the law, particularly offences that endanger national security, they are the evil elements that damage press freedom.
“Professional media workers should recognize that these are the bad apples who are abusing their position simply by wearing a false coat of media worker and then, using that position, abuse news as a tool, to pursue their own purposes. They will pollute press freedom. Professional media workers should recognize this, say no to these people and stand far from them.”
(The original version of this report has been updated with additional information.)