Hong Kong’s national security police have raided the offices of a leading pro-democracy news outlet and arrested six people, including senior journalists, extending a crackdown on media and opposition activists in the city.
More than 200 officers descended on Wednesday morning on the offices of Stand News, an independent news site known for its critical coverage of government policies. Current and former senior executives were arrested for alleged “conspiracy to publish seditious publication” under British colonial-era laws, according to police.
The individuals included Chung Pui-kuen, the outlet’s former top editor who resigned last month, and acting editor Patrick Lam, according to a person familiar with the matter and local media.
The raid came six months after Apple Daily, the pro-democracy newspaper, was forced to close when authorities froze its assets and arrested a number of senior journalists. Jimmy Lai, the company’s founder who is in prison in relation to separate allegations, and six former senior employees of Apple Daily were also charged with seditious publication on Tuesday.
Dozens of opposition activists have fled the city or been arrested after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law that came into effect last year in response to pro-democracy protests the engulfed the city in 2019.
A number of high-profile journalists have been arrested over the past two years, and foreign reporters have been denied visas to work in the territory.
Critics said the latest moves threatened press freedom in the city, despite pledges by Beijing to protect the media and free speech for 50 years following Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
“The arrests, happening just before the new year, have sent a strong signal,” said Grace Leung, a lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who specialises in media regulation and policies.
“It further [extends the] chilling effect . . . with many [journalists] already feeling unease,” she added. “Other media outlets may still be continuing to do their jobs, but no one knows when they will be targeted next and there seems to be no way to prevent that from happening.”
According to a police statement, officers used a search warrant under the national security law that allowed them to search and seize journalistic materials during the raid.
Ronson Chan, a senior editor at Stand News and chair of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, was taken by police from his home, according to the news site. The report did not say whether he had been arrested.
Chris Tang, the city’s security secretary, publicly criticised Stand News this month, saying its coverage of the government was “biased, misleading and demonising”.
Stand News was nominated this year for a press freedom award given by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the media rights group announced last month.
RSF warned in its latest report that Hong Kong was in “free fall” under the national security law, while officials have been considering proposals for a “fake news” law that many worry will further curb tolerance of critical reporting.