(Update 1: adds info about outlet being shut down)
Shanghai, China, Dec 29 (EFE).- Hong Kong-based digital media outlet Stand News, which had an editorial stance aligned with the pro-democracy opposition, on Wednesday announced its closure hours after the arrest of seven members of its current and former senior staff.
In a statement on its official Facebook page, Stand News said it was stopping operations immediately, along with announcing the resignation of its acting director – also arrested on Wednesday morning – and the termination of all employees.
The news website said that several people had been detained and more than 200 officers participated in the raid, in which multiple computers and editorial documents were seized.
Local media outlets also reported that authorities had frozen the publication’s assets worth HK$ 61 million ($7.8 million).
The detainees include current director Lam Shiu-tung, his predecessor until last month Chung Pui-kuen and singer and activist Denise Ho Wan, who is a former member of the board of directors and one of the most recognizable faces of Hong Kong’s opposition, having denounced the “erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy” by China in front of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Lawyer Margaret Ng, who was handed a suspended 12-months sentence for taking part in the 2019 pro-democracy protests, was also arrested as part of the crackdown on Stand News.
Its editor and chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association, Ronson Chan Ron-sing, was taken to a police station for interrogation, but let go without being arrested, although the HKJA expressed “deep concern” over the series of arrests of journalists and raids on media offices over the past year.
In its statement, Stand News said that all the content on its website and social media handles would be removed “within days.”
It thanked readers for their “continued support” and said that it had been founded in 2014 with an independent editorial policy “committed to defending Hong Kong’s fundamental values such as democracy, human rights, liberty, the rule of law and justice.”
The outlets was one of the few close to the pro-democracy opposition and critic of Beijing which had continued to operate after China imposed a stringent security law last year.
Wednesday’s raid covered both the website’s offices as well as the houses of the detainees, who are suspected of “printing or distributing seditious material.”
The National Security Law lays down sentences of up to life imprisonment for charges such as promoting secession.
In June, Stand News had been one of the first media outlets to take preventive measures such as suspending its subscription scheme and stopping most of its opinion pieces after a police raid against the now-defunct Apple Daily, another newspaper critical of the authorities, under the national security law.
Now the outlet has become the second media source in the former British Colony whose employees face sedition charges.
The closure of Apple Daily had been severely criticized by watchdogs such as Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters without Borders (RSF), which have urged the international community to pressurize China into changing its repressive policies that have curbed the freedom of expression in Hong Kong. EFE