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Hong Kong pro-democracy Stand News closes after police raids condemned by U.N., Germany

EconomyDec 29, 2021 09:47AM ET
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2/2 © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Central financial district during sunset, in Hong Kong, China March 11, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu 2/2

By Edmond Ng and James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters) -Hong Kong pro-democracy media outlet Stand News shut down on Wednesday after police raided its office, froze its assets and arrested senior staff on suspected "seditious publication" offences in the latest crackdown on the city's media.

The raid raises more concerns about press freedom in the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise that its freedoms, including a free press, would be protected.

The police action prompted censure by Germany and the U.N. Human Rights Office, which said it was alarmed at the "extremely rapid closing of the civic space and outlets for Hong Kong’s civil society to speak and express themselves freely".

Stand News, set up in 2014 as a non-profit organisation, was the most prominent remaining pro-democracy publication in Hong Kong after a national security investigation this year led to the closure of jailed tycoon Jimmy Lai's Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) Daily tabloid.

"Stand News is now stopping operations," the publication said on Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), adding all employees had been dismissed.

Sedition is not among the offences listed under a sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing in June 2020 that punishes terrorism, collusion with foreign forces, subversion and secession with possible life imprisonment.

But recent court judgements have enabled authorities https://www.reuters.com/world/china/court-rulings-free-hong-kong-police-probe-older-offences-under-security-law-2021-10-19 to use powers conferred by the new legislation to deploy rarely used colonial era laws covering sedition.

Steve Li, head of the police national security department, told reporters Stand News had published news and commentary inciting hatred against authorities.

He said some of the articles said protesters went missing during the city's 2019 pro-democracy unrest or were sexually harassed, which he called "factually baseless" and "malicious". Li also said some articles falsely claimed the Communist Party extended its powers through the city's independent courts or called for foreign sanctions.

Li did not specify the exact articles. Reuters has not independently reviewed any Stand News articles.

Li said police seized assets worth HK$61 million ($7.82 million) as well as computers, phones and journalistic materials, and that he did not rule out further arrests.

"We are not targeting reporters. We are targeting national security offences," Li said.

Police said 200 officers searched the Stand News office and three men and four women, aged 34-73, were arrested on suspicion of "conspiracy to publish seditious publications".

Police did not identify them but media said four former members of the Stand News board were arrested - former democratic legislator Margaret Ng, pop singer Denise Ho, Chow Tat-chi and Christine Fang - as well as former chief editor Chung Pui-kuen and acting chief editor Patrick Lam.

Chung's wife, Chan Pui-man, formerly with Apple Daily, was re-arrested in prison, media said.

Reuters could not reach those arrested or their legal representatives.

Ronson Chan, Stand News deputy assignment editor and the head of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), was not among those arrested but said police confiscated his computer, mobile, tablet, press pass and bank records during a search of his home.

"Stand News has always reported news professionally," Chan told reporters.

Hong Kong Chief Secretary John Lee told reporters he supported the police action.

"Anybody who attempts to make use of media work as a tool to pursue their political purpose or other interests countering the law, particularly offences that endanger national security, they are the evil element that damages press freedom," Lee said.

'OPEN ASSAULT'

Germany condemned the arrests.

"From our point of view, the events illustrate anew that there is a steady erosion of pluralism, freedom of opinion and freedom of the press in Hong Kong - especially since this national security law came into force," a spokesperson for the foreign ministry said.

"From our point of view it is very clear that critical journalism must not be placed under general suspicion," she added.

The U.N. rights office said it was "alarmed by the continued crackdown on civic space" in Hong Kong.

"Hong Kong ... is bound by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and has a legal obligation to respect the rights to freedom of information, expression and association, as well as to guarantee due process," it said in a statement to Reuters in Geneva.

"We are witnessing an extremely rapid closing of the civic space and outlets for Hong Kong’s civil society to speak and express themselves freely..."

Steven Butler, Asia programme coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the arrests were an "open assault on Hong Kong’s already tattered press freedom".

Authorities say the national security law has restored order after often-violent pro-democracy, anti-China unrest in 2019. Critics say the legislation has set the financial hub on an authoritarian path by quashing dissent.

In June, hundreds of police raided the Apple Daily, arresting executives for alleged "collusion with a foreign country". The newspaper shut down shortly after.

On Tuesday, prosecutors filed an additional "seditious publications" charge against Lai and six other former Apple Daily staff.

The Stand News charter stated independence and a commitment to safeguarding "democracy, human rights, rule of law and justice".

After the Apple Daily raid, Stand News said it would stop accepting donations from readers and had taken down commentaries from its platform to protect supporters, authors and editorial staff, adding that "speech crimes" had come to Hong Kong.

This year, the government has also embarked on a major overhaul https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hongkong-security-media-idUSKBN2AJ09J of public broadcaster RTHK while authorities have said they are considering "fake news" legislation.

The HKJA said it was "deeply concerned that the police have repeatedly arrested senior members of the media" and searched newsrooms.

($1 = 7.7960 Hong Kong dollars)

Hong Kong pro-democracy Stand News closes after police raids condemned by U.N., Germany
 

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Comments (23)
Ac Tektrader
Ac Tektrader Dec 29, 2021 12:31PM ET
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nikonos ...rationalizing Chinese state sactioned bigotry, murder rape and torture, forced labor camps and of course, the destruction of Democracy in Hong Kong, doing it all for his brutalizing masters in Peking... China where up is down and down is up... the land that Orwell described in his novel 1984.
LM LM
Nikonos Dec 29, 2021 12:31PM ET
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I'm well aware that there's no good power. But I think you're rationalizing the brutal acts of an empire which is no better than any other. I could have mentioned many other things: Assange, sanctions to starve the populations of countries that do not subjugate, etc. But it's all nothing because you find comfort in the empire media who sell you that the USA is the beacon of democracy, human rights, freedom, etc... Just like any other empire in the whole human history. Think about that.
Mike ND
Mike ND Dec 29, 2021 9:28AM ET
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Commie Dave doing damage control for asian hitl.er I see on here
SureWin Sam
SureWin Sam Dec 29, 2021 9:16AM ET
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I am very happy to hear that this ugly newspaper company is finally going to close down. I am a Hong Kong native. I was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Hong Kong. We all know that this company is just a troublemaker. We all know that they receive funds from foreign governments and have worked for foreign governments for a long time. Their company was shutted in Taiwan a few years ago, and now they are also shutting down in Hong Kong. It feels good.
Lily Zhang
Lily Zhang Dec 29, 2021 9:16AM ET
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How much did chinese government pay u to post your comment? You are cheap.
Ac Tektrader
Ac Tektrader Dec 29, 2021 9:16AM ET
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sure win Sam, the friend of dictatorship and political suppression ..
Ac Tektrader
Ac Tektrader Dec 29, 2021 9:16AM ET
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the only thing ugly is the fearful, pathetic, Brutal Chinese leadership.
LM LM
Nikonos Dec 29, 2021 9:07AM ET
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The USA made millions of deaths since ww2, an average of a coup per year all around the world, engages in torture and global surveillance, has the highest prison population (per capita) in the world, which provides forced and slave labor, its police kills more than in any other country, etc etc etc. They're not entitled to give any moral lesson to anybody.
Erski Gumby
SB20 Dec 29, 2021 9:07AM ET
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Cope, baby, cope.
Tyrone Jackson
Tyrone Jackson Dec 29, 2021 8:46AM ET
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Can’t comment here. Being censored. That tells you everything
Ac Tektrader
Ac Tektrader Dec 29, 2021 8:46AM ET
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tyrone...I thought you liked rules. I guess just for everyone else not you.
Tyrone Jackson
Tyrone Jackson Dec 29, 2021 8:44AM ET
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David is brainwashed. Explain why there is millions of Chinese living in America and none of them want to go back. Explain why they are afraid of a little newspaper. What are the cream cream pee afraid of?
John Hat
John Hat Dec 29, 2021 8:39AM ET
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The Chinese Communists, led by the baby face wannabe king, will fall. Eventually people will say, who were the Chinese Communists? Just a group of thugs.
Brian Or
Brian Or Dec 29, 2021 8:36AM ET
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Why is this media so rich in cash $61 millions, set up as non profit operation, strike you odd?
LM LM
Nikonos Dec 29, 2021 8:33AM ET
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USA is the empire of evil, causing hunger and death all around the world.
Erski Gumby
SB20 Dec 29, 2021 8:33AM ET
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Cope
Tyrone Jackson
Tyrone Jackson Dec 29, 2021 8:33AM ET
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Meanwhile Millions upon millions are trying to get to the US.
LM LM
Nikonos Dec 29, 2021 8:33AM ET
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Yes, those millions are from countries victims of the American empire
Ac Tektrader
Ac Tektrader Dec 29, 2021 8:33AM ET
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nikonos that statement makes you sound like a man grabbing at straws.. the only people desperate to get into China are the North Koreans, that sez it all.....
Erwin Jedwab
Erwin Jedwab Dec 29, 2021 5:23AM ET
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China is worse than North Korea, no one should buy their goods, nor sell them anything!!!
IceIce Baby
IceIceBaby Dec 29, 2021 5:23AM ET
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Do you really want to argue about which sh..t is worse? :))
djavid hosseini
djavid hosseini Dec 29, 2021 5:23AM ET
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Then Stop buying I phone’s
IceIce Baby
IceIceBaby Dec 29, 2021 5:23AM ET
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djavid hosseini  True! +1000 thumbs up
Erski Gumby
SB20 Dec 29, 2021 5:23AM ET
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djavid hosseini iphones *******like xi
 
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