U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is calling on Beijing and the Hong Kong government to immediately release media staff members arrested in Hong Kong on Dec. 29, following a police raid of their newsroom on the same day.
“We call on PRC [People’s Republic of China] and Hong Kong authorities to cease targeting Hong Kong’s free and independent media, and to immediately release those journalists and media executives who have been unjustly detained and charged,” Blinken said, according to a statement.
On Dec. 29, over 200 national security officers raided Hong Kong’s independent online media outlet Stand News. The police froze the outlet’s assets worth HK$61 million (roughly $7.8 million) and arrested two current and former editors, and four former board members, accusing them of engaging in the “conspiracy to publish seditious publications” under a colonial-era ordinance.
Hours after the raid, Stand News announced that it would be ending its operations. Now, the company’s website is inaccessible, and its Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts have all been deleted. All of the videos on its YouTube channel have also been removed.
Stand News’ UK bureau has also ceased operation, the bureau’s chief, Yeung Tin-shui, announced on his Facebook page on Dec. 30. Yeung added that he has also resigned from his position.
Stand News is the second Hong Kong media outlet to shut down this year. In June, 500 police officers raided local newspaper Apple Daily’s headquarters, and the daily printed its last edition less than 10 days later.
“Journalism is not sedition,” Blinken stated. “By silencing independent media, PRC and local authorities undermine Hong Kong’s credibility and viability.”
“A confident government that is unafraid of the truth embraces a free press,” he concluded.
Also arrested on Wednesday was a former Apple Daily editor, who is married to the arrested former Stand News editor.
Carrie Lam Comments
Pro-Beijing Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, while speaking to reporters on Dec. 30, defended the case against Stand News, saying the police’s moves “have nothing to do with so-called suppression of press freedom.”
She added: “Seditious activities could not be condoned under the guise of news reporting.”
Lam also accused those demanding the release of the arrested as “trampling on the rule of law.”
The Commissioner’s Office of China’s Foreign Ministry, in a statement released late on Wednesday, called on “external forces,” including the European Union, to “stop using any excuse to interfere in Hong Kong’s affairs and China’s internal affairs.”
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, in a Facebook post, said China has again “torn apart” its promises under the “One Country, Two Systems” framework by suppressing Hong Kong’s freedom of speech.
“Democracy and freedom are universal values and the basic rights of the people,” Tsai wrote, before expressing hope that those arrested on Wednesday would be released soon.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), chair and co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), took to Twitter to express their “deep concerns,” saying the arrests were part of a “systematic crackdown” on Hong Kong’s press freedom.
The two lawmakers expressed particular concern toward popular Hong Kong singer and activist Denise Ho, noting that she testified before the CECC in September 2019 on human rights abuses in Hong Kong. Ho, a former board member at Stand News, was one of the seven arrested on Dec. 29.
“CECC will closely monitor their cases, incl. their bond applications and due process rights,” the two lawmakers said.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne took to Twitter to say the raid and arrests were a continuation of “suppression of free speech & media” in Hong Kong.
“[Australia] reiterates our call for media freedom & for the rights & freedoms of the people of Hong Kong to be upheld,” Payne wrote.
Reuters contributed to this article.