Stand News has deleted its website and wiped its social media pages less than 24 hours after seven ex-staff members were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to publish seditious publications.
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 independent news source was founded in December 2014 and had a pro-democracy slant. It is the successor to House News, which shut in July 2014 after its founder Tony Tsoi cited safety fears.
Local media reported that former editor-in-chief Chung Pui-kuen, and former chief editor Patrick Lam, will be charged at West Kowloon Court on Thursday afternoon.
The Stand News UK office also shut down on Wednesday, London-based bureau chief Yeung Tin-shui said on Facebook: “As Stand News has ceased operating, the UK bureau will also halt its business. The UK bureau has previously provided content, including online reports and social media posts,” Yeung said, adding that he has already resigned from his post.
The online deletions follow Wednesday’s early morning arrests and raid of the Stand News office. Around 200 national security police officers arrived at the outlet’s Kwun Tong headquarters and left with more than 30 boxes of evidence.
Former director and ex-chief editor of the science section Chow Tat-chi, and former board director and Hong Kong singer Denise Ho, were also among the arrested.
The group are suspected of breaching the colonial-era Crimes Ordinance by conspiring to publish seditious publications.
During an afternoon press conference, senior superintendent of the police force’s National Security Department Steve Li said the former staff published “seditious materials” between the enactment of the security law last June and November 2021. Their intent, Li said, was to cause hatred towards the government and the judiciary, as well as bring about discontent among the public.
Ronson Chan, director of the Hong Kong Journalists Association and a former Stand News editor, was taken away by police to assist with the investigation. His residences were also searched.
Local media sources said that Tsoi, one of the co-founders of Stand News, is wanted by police.
Stand News is the second pro-democracy outlet to fold in recent months. In June, Apple Daily – founded by media mogul Jimmy Lai, who is now in jail facing national security charges – shuttered after 26 years in operation following a round of arrests and the freezing of HK$18 million in assets.
Speaking on a Commercial Radio program on Thursday morning, Chan said he felt the “pain” that Apple Daily staff went through six months ago when senior management were arrested and the paper was forced to close: “Suddenly, our identities as journalists have disappeared,” Chan said.
Authorities also froze assets totalling HK$61 million. In Thursday’s press conference, Li questioned the source of the outlet’s funding, adding that this sum was “enough” for them to open a UK office. Becoming emotional, Chan said the money was raised over the past two years when Stand News reporters worked night after night to cover the political protests on the ground.
“We ceaselessly did hours-long live broadcasts. After watching those live broadcasts, people thought we were worth supporting, so they supported us,” he said.
Rights groups react
Press organisations and media watchdogs have decried the arrests, citing concerns about dwindling press freedom in the city.
“These actions are a further blow to press freedom in Hong Kong and will continue to chill the media environment in the city following a difficult year for the city’s news outlet,” the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) said on Wednesday.
The club added that 71 per cent of respondents in a recent survey of correspondents and journalists members said they were concerned about the possibility of arrest.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs hit back at the FCC’s statement, warning that those who endanger national security “under the cover of journalism are the black sheep tarnishing… press freedom and will be held accountable in accordance with law.”
Free expression NGO Reporters Without Borders also denounced the arrests. “Exactly six months after the dismantling of the Next Digital group and its flagship newspaper Apple Daily, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam once again shows her determination to terminate press freedom in the territory by eliminating Stand News in a similar fashion,” Cédric Alviani, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia bureau head, said.