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Hong Kong police charge two former Stand News editors with sedition

Randy Mancini 13 December 30, 2021
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a news conference in Beijing
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks next to Eric Chan Kwok-ki, director of the Chief Executive's Office, at a news conference in Beijing, China December 22, 2021. REUTERS/Shubing Wang/File Photo

December 30, 2021

By Clare Jim and Sara Cheng

HONG KONG (Reuters) -Two former senior editors arrested in a Hong Kong police crackdown on a pro-democracy media organisation were charged on Thursday with conspiring to publish seditious material, authorities said.

About 200 police raided the office of the Stand News online publication on Wednesday, froze its assets and arrested seven current and former senior editors and former board members.

Media advocacy groups and some Western governments criticised the raid and arrests as a sign of further erosion of press freedoms since China imposed a sweeping national security law in the former British colony last year.

The National Security Department of the police said in a statement it had laid charges of conspiracy to publish seditious material against two men and an online media company.

“The other arrestees are being detained for further enquires,” the department said in a statement.

While it did not identify the two or the company a charge sheet filed at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court and seen by Reuters identified them as former Stand News chief editor Chung Pui-kuen and Patrick Lam, acting chief editor.

The same charge of conspiring “to publish and/or reproduce seditious publications” was levelled against Best Pencil (Hong Kong) Limited, the organisation behind Stand News.

Reuters could not reach the pair, nor any of the other five still in detention, including four former board members of Stand News, for comment. Their legal representatives could also not be reached nor could Reuters reach any representative of Best Pencil.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise that wide-ranging individual rights, including a free press, would be protected.

But pro-democracy activists and rights groups say freedoms have been eroded, in particular since China imposed the new national security law after months of at times violent pro-democracy protests.

Hong Kong’s government denies that and its leader, Carrie Lam, said the action against Stand News was aimed at seditious activity not the suppression of the media.

“These actions have nothing to do with so-called suppression of press freedom,” Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam told reporters.

“Journalism is not seditious … but seditious activities could not be condoned under the guise of news reporting.”

‘BLACK SHEEP’

Set up in 2014 as a non-profit organisation, Stand News 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 Daily tabloid.

Stand News shut down hours after the raid and all of its employees were dismissed. Its website was not accessible on Thursday and its London bureau chief, Yeung Tin Shui, said on Facebook his office had also closed.

Four former members of the Stand News board – former democratic legislator Margaret Ng, pop singer Denise Ho, Chow Tat-chi and Christine Fang – remain in police detention. Chung’s wife, Chan Pui-man, formerly with Apple Daily, was re-arrested in prison.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Chinese and Hong Kong authorities to immediately release those arrested.

Lam, referring to Blinken’s call, said that would be against the rule of law.

Beijing’s main representative office in the city, the Hong Kong Liaison Office, said Stand News was an “out-and-out political organisation” that “kept publishing articles that incited others to use violence and even split the country”.

The Chinese foreign ministry’s Hong Kong office said support for press freedom was being used as an excuse to disrupt stability in the city.

“Those who engage in activities that endanger national security and undermine the rule of law and public order under the cover of journalism are the black sheep tarnishing the press freedom and will be held accountable,” it said in a statement.

(writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Robert Birsel)