Stand News’ Headquarters Raided, Executives Arrested, Computers Seized

Hong Kong’s Stand News is no more. The pro-democracy media outlet announced its dissolution on Wednesday after National Security Police arrested seven current and former employees, raided its headquarters, seized its computers, and froze its assets. The assault closely mirrored the tactics employed against Apple Daily in June. Those arrested were charged with conspiring to publish seditious materials, a violation of the colonial-era Crimes Ordinance. Five of those arrested were released on bail but two, chief editor Chung Pui-kuen and acting chief editor Patrick Lam, remain in custody. An eighth person, former Stand News director Joseph Lian Yi-zheng, is reportedly wanted for arrest. At The New York Times, Vivian Wang covered the sweeping attack on Stand News and what it means for Hong Kong’s press freedoms:

The seven were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to publish seditious material, according to the police. A senior official, Steve Li, accused the publication at a news conference of publishing “inflammatory” content intended to incite hatred toward the government and the judiciary, especially through its coverage of the city’s fierce pro-democracy protests in 2019.

[…] Around the same time, more than 200 officers entered the publication’s headquarters in Hong Kong and conducted a search, the police said. Footage and photos reviewed by The New York Times showed officers stringing orange tape across a hallway inside the office building, and wheeling suitcases and boxes containing computers and other materials out of the newsroom. A photo showed at least two dozen large blue plastic boxes stacked in the building’s lobby.

[…] But the arrests were carried out by the national security police, and the warrant for the newsroom raid was issued under the security law, the police said. And Mr. Li, the police official, said that Stand News’s articles had aimed to incite secession, subvert state power or call on foreign governments to impose sanctions on Hong Kong — all offenses under the security law. [Source]

Stand News editor Ronson Chan broke the news of the arrests by livestreaming a police raid on his own apartment:

In September, pro-Beijing lawmaker Regina Ip posited that the continued existence of Stand News, a canary in the coal mine of sorts, was proof “freedom of expression [was] still alive and well” in the city. Yet by that time the paper had already prepared for its demise: it pulled commentaries, asked its directors to resign, suspended donations, and began paying employees at the beginning of the month. Mere hours after the raids, Hong Kong Free Press reported that Stand News deleted its entire internet presence:

The non-profit media outlet’s website went dark at 11 p.m. on Thursday and was replaced with a message about its closure. “Given the circumstances, Stand News is immediately halting its operations,” the message read, adding that the outlet thanks readers for their support.

Stand News’ Facebook and Twitter pages were also removed. Its YouTube account remains, but all content has been taken down.

[…] The Stand News UK office also shut down on Wednesday. [Source]

Hong Kong authorities vociferously defended the arrests without offering a clear rationale for them. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the arrests have “nothing to do with journalistic or media work.” At The Wall Street Journal, Natasha Khan reported on the National Security Department’s issues with the website:

Senior Superintendent of the National Security Department Li Kwai-wah told reporters after the Stand News arrests that the news site continued to publish seditious content from July 2020 to November 2021, after the national security law came into effect. Mr. Li raised a few examples, including that the news site described Hong Kong protesters as having disappeared and reported that police were pointing guns at the yellow helmets protesters were wearing during clashes and saying “burn them all.” Mr. Li said such articles were published with the intent to provoke hatred against the government and dissatisfaction among the community. [Source]

At the South China Morning Post, Chris Lau, Natalie Wong, and Brian Wong, reported on Hong Kong officials’ throaty defense of the arrests:

[Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said,] “People from the executive and legislative branches are also subject to the law with no exceptions. Why can people from the so-called fourth estate be above the law?”

Lam was repeatedly asked what constituted seditious content but refused to specify and insisted journalists should themselves know what amounted to an offence.

Beijing’s local representatives also went on the offensive, with a spokesman for the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs defending the arrests as “actions of justice to safeguard national security, the rule of law and public order”, while the central government’s liaison office accused the West of interfering in the city’s affairs. [Source]

It was not immediately clear why the police have so far elected to use the Crimes Ordinance, rather than the National Security Law, against Stand News and its affiliates, but Tom Kellog, the Executive Director of the Georgetown Center for Asian Law, provided a compelling rationale on Twitter:

Cantopop star Denise Ho was among the seven people arrested. Ho’s assistant told CNN that police spent over two hours in the singer’s home, and seized her identification card, passport, phones and computers. Ho and others stepped down from Stand News earlier this year in a futile attempt to protect Stand News from National Security Law charges. At The Guardian, Rhoda Kwan wrote further on Ho’s arrest and the slow response from authorities in Canada, where Ho has citizenship:

Ho’s arrest marks the first time a pop star of global renown has been detained in Hong Kong for a political crime after Beijing imposed a national security law 18 months ago in response to months of pro-democracy protests in 2019.

[…] “Denise Ho has been the most vocal and popular artist in Hong Kong who dares to oppose Beijing,” Sunny Cheung, one of the activists who had travelled with Ho to the US, told the Guardian.

[…] There was no immediate response from Canadian authorities, but her detention may add to tensions between the two countries. It comes just a few months after the release of “the two Michaels”, Canadian citizens held in China for over 1,000 days. Critics including the Canadian government labelled their detention “hostage diplomacy”, in retaliation for the arrest of a Chinese executive on US fraud charges. [Source]

After her release on bail, Ho posted on Twitter:

Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs subsequently commented:

The arrests also earned international condemnation from entities like the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, the United Nations Human Rights Office, Germany, and the United States. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for the release of the Stand News editors and the protection of Hong Kong’s press freedoms. The Chinese state and its media outlets dismissed all criticism. At Reuters, David Stanway reported on the Chinese embassy in Britain’s response to criticism of the arrests:

“The rights and interests of Hong Kong residents, including freedom of speech and freedom of the press, are safeguarded in accordance with the law,” China’s embassy said late on Thursday.

[…] But the official Communist Party newspaper, the People’s Daily, said in an editorial on Friday that “freedom of the press” was being used as an excuse to sow “anti-China chaos” in Hong Kong. It accused foreign politicians of “recklessly discrediting” Hong Kong police.

[…] “Freedom has a bottom line, and violations of the law must be punished.” [Source]

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