'Journalism is not sedition' says US after Hong Kong journalists charged

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  • Patrick Lam
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Two senior editors of Hong Kong media outlet Stand News have been charged with conspiracy to publish seditious material following a raid that drew international condemnation lead by the United States and Canada.

More than 200 police officers stormed into the Stand News office on Wednesday, seizing phones, computers, documents and thousands of dollars.

Acting editor-in-chief Patrick Lam and former editor-in-chief Chung Pui-kuen were charged along with Stand News' parent company for conspiring "together and with other persons, to publish and/or reproduce seditious publications," according to court documents.

Chung and Lam were arrested on Wednesday with five others including Hong Kong pop star Denise Ho, a board member who resigned in June.

Among the violations listed on the charge sheet were the promotion of "hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection" against the government and the incitement of "persons to violence".

The latest arrests were under a British colonial-era law for "conspiracy to publish seditious publication," with police accusing Stand News of articles and blog posts that incited hatred toward the Hong Kong government.

The Chinese government's liaison office in Hong Kong termed the arrests an "act of justice" and accused Stand News of inciting secession.

"Bringing the relevant Stand News personnel to justice is a matter of 'the wicked getting what they deserve' and has nothing to do with freedom of the press," a spokesperson said in a statement.

Stand News announced after the raid that it would cease operations.

Reactions abroad

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the raid and wider crackdown on press freedom by China and "local authorities undermine Hong Kong's credibility and viability".

"We call on PRC 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," he said on Wednesday.

"Journalism is not sedition," Blinken said.

"A confident government that is unafraid of the truth embraces a free press."

Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly also denounced the arrests including of Ho, who was born in Hong Kong but grew up in Canada.

"We are deeply concerned by the arrests in Hong Kong of current and former board and staff members from Stand News, including Canadian citizen and activist Denise Ho," Joly said.

European Union spokesman Peter Stano earlier wrote on Twitter that the raid and arrests marked "a further deterioration in #PressFreedom" in the city.

The Society of Professional Journalists, a US group that promotes free expression and ethical standards, voiced solidarity with Stand News.

"SPJ stands with our brave colleagues in Hong Kong who continue to believe in the right of news organizations to be free from government control," said Dan Kubiske, co-chair of the group's international community.

China's foreign ministry hit out at "irresponsible" criticism of the arrests on Thursday after the US, Canada and the EU condemned the raid.

"Some external forces, under the guise of media freedom, have been making irresponsible remarks about law enforcement in Hong Kong," foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a briefing.

"But media freedom and freedom of speech cannot be a shield for criminal acts."

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam responded on Thursday, saying she agreed with Blinken's sentiment that "journalism is not sedition" but added that seditious acts "could not be condoned under the guise of news reporting".

Deteriorating freedoms

China also slapped sanctions on five US citizens "freezing their assets in China, and banning Chinese citizens and organisations from dealing with them" in response to a US advisory on deteriorating freedoms in Hong Kong.

The city has been transformed after the powerful security law was imposed a year ago, empowering authorities to arrest pro-democracy activists and bar anyone considered disloyal from running for public office.

Stand News is the second Hong Kong media company targeted by the authorities after pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily -- which shut down in June after its assets were frozen under the national security law.

The United States has already imposed sanctions on Hong Kong leaders and curtailed the territory's separate status in US regulations in hopes of changing Beijing's behavior.

(with AFP)

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