Hong Kong: Pro-democracy Stand News to close after police raids and staff arrests

Stand News editor Patrick Lam is escorted by police officers into a van after they searched his office in Hong Kong. Credit: AP/Press Association Images

One of the last pro-democracy media organisations in Hong Kong says it is shutting down after police raided its offices and senior staff were arrested.

Stand News issued a statement on Wednesday saying its website and social media are no longer being updated and will be taken down.

“Because of the situation, Stand News is now stopping operations,” the online publication said in the Facebook post.

“Acting editor in chief, Patrick Lam, has resigned and all Stand News employees are dismissed."

More than 200 police officers were sent to raid the outlet's office earlier in the day, after obtaining a warrant to seize relevant journalistic materials under a national security law enacted last year.

Earlier this month, the outlet, which was launched in 2014, was criticised by Hong Kong’s security chief for “biased” reporting in a story about the city’s new smart prison system.

Singer and activist Denise Ho was among the people arrested Credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Police did not identify the six people who were arrested on charges of conspiracy to publish a "seditious" publication.

But according to the local South China Morning Post newspaper, police arrested one current and one former editor at Stand News, as well as four former board members including singer and activist Denise Ho and former lawmaker Margaret Ng.

Those convicted could face up to two years in jail and a fine of up to HK$5,000 (£480).

On Wednesday, Stand News posted a video on Facebook of police officers at the home of a deputy editor, Ronson Chan, where they were investigating the alleged crime.

Senior editor of Stand News Ronson Chan. Credit: AP

Mr Chan, who is also chair of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), was taken away for questioning, but was later released.

He told journalists that the police seized his electronic devices, bank cards and press card.

The arrests come as authorities crack down on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.

Beijing has been accused of remoulding Hong Kong in its own authoritarian image after pro-democracy protests two years ago.

Hong Kong police had previously raided the offices of the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper, seizing boxes of materials and hard drives to assist in their investigation and freezing millions in assets that later forced the paper to cease operations.

Police charged former Apple Daily publisher Jimmy Lai with sedition on Tuesday.

Stand News earlier this year said it would suspend subscriptions and remove most opinion pieces and columns from its website due to the national security law.

The HKJA urged the city’s government to protect press freedom in accordance with Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

“The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) is deeply concerned that the police have repeatedly arrested senior members of the media and searched the offices of news organisations containing large quantities of journalistic materials within a year,” it said in a statement.

Benedict Rogers, co-founder and CEO of the non-governmental organisation Hong Kong Watch, said the arrests are “nothing short of an all-out assault on the freedom of the press in Hong Kong”.

“When a free press guaranteed by Hong Kong’s Basic Law is labelled seditious, it is a symbol of the speed at which this once great, open, international city has descended into little more than a police state,” he said.

Wednesday’s arrests also followed the removal of sculptures and other artwork from university campuses last week.

The works supported democracy and memorialised the victims of China’s crackdown on democracy protesters at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.