Two former editors from a Hong Kong online pro-democracy news outlet were charged with sedition and denied bail on Thursday, a day after the outlet said it would cease operations following a police raid on its office and seven arrests.
National security police said they charged two men, aged 34 and 52, with one count each of conspiracy to publish a seditious publication but did not identify them.
According to local media reports, the two are Chung Pui-kuen and Patrick Lam, who were editors at Stand News, an online pro-democracy news outlet.
Police also said they would prosecute the company for sedition.
The two men’s cases were brought to West Kowloon court on Thursday, police said in a statement. Lam was not present in court because he was in the hospital. Both were denied bail.
The other arrestees have been detained for further questioning. Apart from Chung and Lam, four other former Stand News board members, including singer Denise Ho and former lawmaker Margaret Ng, were arrested on Wednesday. Ho was released from police custody on Thursday afternoon.
Chan Pui-man, a former editor at the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper and Chung’s wife, was also arrested.
The seven were arrested under a crime ordinance that dates from Hong Kong’s days as a British colony before 1997, when it was returned to China. Those convicted could face up to two years in prison and a fine of up to 5,000 Hong Kong dollars ($640).
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said at a news conference on Thursday that the arrests were not targeted at the media.
“Journalism is not sedition, but seditious acts and activities and inciting other people through other acts and activities could not be condoned under the guise of news reporting,” she said.
“It should be very clear what is reporting of news, and what is seditious acts or activities to undermine national security.”
Her comments came after US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called on Hong Kong authorities to release the detainees.
“Freedom of expression, including media freedom, and access to information provided by an independent media are critical to prosperous and secure societies. These freedoms enabled Hong Kong to flourish as a global centre for finance, trade, education, and culture,” Blinken said in a statement.
“By silencing independent media, (Chinese) and local authorities undermine Hong Kong’s credibility and viability. A confident government that is unafraid of the truth embraces a free press.”
The United States has also sanctioned five Hong Kong-based Chinese officials following legislative council elections in the city earlier this month for reducing Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a daily briefing on Thursday that China will respond by imposing countermeasures on five Americans, including former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and US-China Economic and Security Review Commission President Carolyn Bartholomew.
Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Melanie Joly, tweeted on Wednesday that her country is “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.”
“Freedom of media and expression remain cornerstones of democracy and essential to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” she said.
“We will continue to speak out and denounce violations of these freedoms, in partnership with our international allies.”
Stand News said Wednesday that it is ceasing operations and had laid off all its staff.
The arrests and raid on Stand News come as authorities crack down on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
Hong Kong police previously raided the offices of the now-defunct Apple Daily, seizing boxes of materials and computer hard drives to assist in their investigation and freezing millions in assets that later forced the newspaper to cease operations.