Stand News acting chief editor Patrick Lam Shiu-tung, second from left, is arrested by police officers in Hong Kong, Dec 29, 2021. (VINCENT YU/AP)
Hong Kong police on Wednesday arrested six current and former employees and a columnist of local online media Stand News on suspicion of conspiracy to publish seditious material. About HK$61 million ($7.82 million) of the company assets was frozen — the highest amount in the city’s national security-related cases.
Those arrested were Patrick Lam Shiu-tung, Denise Ho Wan-see, Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, Chung Puikuen, Christine Fang Meng-sang, Chow Tat-chi, and columnist Chan Pui-man. Lam was the company’s acting chief editor before he resigned after being arrested.
Steve Li Kwai-wah, senior superintendent of the police’s National Security Department said the media outlet published a series of seditious reports between July 2020 and November, with the purpose of instigating dissatisfaction among the public, inciting violence and law-breaking behavior
Steve Li Kwai-wah, senior superintendent of the police’s National Security Department, told a media briefing on Wednesday afternoon that those arrested played important roles in Stand News’ editorial policy and operating strategy.
Li said the media outlet published a series of seditious reports between July 2020 and November, with the purpose of instigating dissatisfaction among the public, inciting violence and law-breaking behavior and stoking hatred against the administration of justice and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government.
There is strong evidence to show that the media outlet allowed fugitives or overseas activists to use its platforms to incite subversion and separatism activities in Hong Kong and call for foreign sanctions, seriously endangering national security, Li added.
These publications stoked public hostility against the government and judiciary by making baseless accusations of the police’s enforcement and judicial decisions. The acts allegedly violated the Crimes Ordinance, he said.
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On Wednesday morning, armed with a warrant, over 200 police officers searched the media company’s premise at Kwun Tong, seizing materials including computers, equipment and HK$500,000 in cash.
Li said that the police have frozen the company’s assets of HK$61 million, with most of the money transferred “in a stealthy way”. He said the police will trace the source of the funds and search for other participants in the conspiracy.
He added that the police operation was not aimed at any news organization or journalists, but at protecting national security in accordance with the law.
Hours after the police raid, the media outlet announced its dissolution, including the dismissal of all its employees and the suspension of all its websites and social media.
Speaking at a sideline of a public event, Chief Secretary of Administration John Lee Ka-chiu said the government will take rigorous action against those endangering national security in the name of press freedom.
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Holden Chow Ho-ding, lawmaker-elect and vice-chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said the arrests and subsequent raids on the online media’s premise and residences of the suspects were made in accordance with the law.
Lawrence Ma Yan-kwok, barrister and the chairman of Hong Kong Legal Exchange Foundation, said that the arrests sent a clear message to the public that freedom of speech cannot override the law. Freedom of speech will be reasonably limited when it comes to national security, he added.
Hong Kong solicitor Christopher Wong Kwok-yan said the move against Stand News shows the police’s resolve to maintain social stability and affords zero tolerance to those members of the media who intend to incite antigovernment hatred and publish baseless news.
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