Stand News, one of Hong Kong’s remaining pro-democracy news organizations, is closing down after police stormed it and detained key workers.
Hong Kong police detained seven persons, including current and former workers, for “conspiracy to publish seditious materials.”
“Stand News is immediately halting operations due to the circumstances,” the organization declared in a Facebook post.
The office of the newspaper was raided by around 200 police officers.
In a statement, Hong Kong police said they had been given permission to “examine and seize relevant journalistic documents.”
Stand News said on Facebook that it will no longer be updating its website and that its social media information would be removed “within a day.”
“A number of senior and ex senior workers of the corporation were detained this morning, [and] numerous people were taken away to assist in the inquiry,” the statement continues.
It goes on to say that laptops and papers were confiscated from its office, and that it will cooperate with the police investigation.
Three males and four women were detained, with ages ranging from 34 to 73.
Chung Pui-kuen and Patrick Lam, former and acting chief editors of Stand News, are among them, as is Denise Ho, a former board member and pop diva turned democracy hero.
Margaret Ng, Christine Fang, and Chow Tat-chi, all members of the board, were also detained. The name of the seventh individual taken into custody has yet to be revealed.
During a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Chief Secretary of Police John Lee stated that he backed the police operation against the news outlet and that there would be “zero tolerance for behavior that harms national security.”
“Using the media as a weapon to further their political or other objectives is illegal,” he added, referring to offenses that jeopardize national security.
“It’s the nefarious elements that jeopardize journalistic freedom.”
The raid that took place today was not unexpected.
Stand News ceased accepting payments from readers a few days after Apple Daily was shut down, claiming that they did not want to take contributors’ monies in the event that they were shut down, among other safeguards.
One employee, who did not want to be identified, stated that he felt tranquil today, as predicted.
“I hope everyone is secure, and press freedom is not a crime,” he stated, but declined to say if he was concerned for his personal safety or that of his 60 coworkers.
Hong Kong was once a shining example of Asian press freedom, but with just a few independent news websites and magazines surviving, one can’t help but worry who will be the next to go.
The arrests have been criticised by the Committee to Protect Journalists, with Steven Butler, Asia program coordinator, calling them “an open attack on Hong Kong’s already frayed press freedom, as China increases up its authority over the former colony.”
Meanwhile, the HKJA expressed its “serious worry” about the event on Wednesday, urging “the government to preserve journalistic freedom in accordance with the Basic Law.”
The Basic Law, which went into force after Britain returned Hong Kong to China, safeguards rights such as freedom of assembly and speech.
Following the introduction of a national security law, Hong Kong authorities have been progressively cracking down on dissent in the city.
Secession, subversion, and coordination with foreign forces are all illegal under the contentious law, which carries a potential punishment of life in jail.
The rule, according to critics, substantially diminishes Hong Kong’s judicial authority and makes it easier to prosecute demonstrations and activists.