Washington condemns the closure of the Hong Kong media Stand News

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday condemned the shutdown of pro-democracy Hong Kong media Stand News, and warned that the press crackdown was damaging the city’s reputation as a major international financial center.

“By silencing independent media, China and local authorities are undermining Hong Kong’s credibility and viability,” the US official said in a statement.

“Authorities who have confidence in themselves and are not afraid of the truth welcome the free press,” he added.

“Journalism is not sedition,” said the secretary of state, before calling on China and the Hong Kong authorities to “stop attacking the free and independent media in Hong Kong and immediately release journalists and media officials who have been wrongfully detained and charged “.

The Stand News news site announced its closure on Wednesday, a few hours after searches, the freezing of its assets and seven arrests, the latest episode in the crackdown on the local press by authorities loyal to Beijing.

Hong Kong National Security Police Chief Steve Li said on Wednesday that Stand News was accused of posting “seditious” articles and blog posts between July 2020 and November 2021.

“They described protesters in Hong Kong as ‘missing’ or ‘raped’ … These are vicious allegations with no factual basis,” Li said.

Hong Kong National Security Police Chief Steve Li gives a press conference on December 29, 2021 (AFP – Peter PARKS)

He denied that the police attack the media, assuring that publications writing unbiased articles would not have any problems.

This crackdown comes as the international community worries about the relentless recovery in hand in Hong Kong since the huge pro-democracy protests of 2019.

– “Deterioration” –

Police raided Stand News headquarters and the homes of several of its employees and arrested seven people. Among the latter are editor-in-chief Patrick Lam, former editor-in-chief Chung Pui-kuen, four ex-board members, including Cantonese pop star Denise Ho and the lawyer and former member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council Margaret Ng, as well as ex-journalist Chan Pui-man, wife of Mr. Chung.

In addition, 61 million Hong Kong dollars (7 million euros) in assets belonging to Stand News were frozen, according to Li.

Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly reacted on Twitter to the arrest of Ms. Ho, born in Hong Kong but raised in Canada. Ms. Joly expressed concern after “the arrest of current and former members of the board of directors and staff of Stand News, including Canadian citizen and activist Denise Ho.”

Stand News editor-in-chief Patrick Lam was taken to his media headquarters in handcuffs during a search on January 29, 2021 in Hong Kong (AFP - Daniel SUEN)
Stand News editor-in-chief Patrick Lam was taken to his media headquarters in handcuffs during a search on January 29, 2021 in Hong Kong (AFP – Daniel SUEN)

Stand News is Hong Kong’s second-largest media silenced by the authorities. In June, the pro-democracy Apple Daily closed after its assets were frozen and its executives were arrested.

European Union diplomacy spokesman Peter Stano denounced a “further deterioration of press freedom” in Hong Kong.

The former British colony has long been considered, due to its great autonomy from Beijing, as an Asian bastion of press freedom and still houses the regional headquarters of major international media.

But the climate for the press has deteriorated considerably with the strong recovery that followed the popular mobilization of 2019. A draconian law on national security, imposed by Beijing and entered into force in 2020, has become the main instrument of crackdown on dissent.

Press freedom is “in ruins” in Hong Kong, estimated in July Ronson Chan, president of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, the profession’s main union. Mr Chan, who was deputy editor of Stand News, saw his home searched by police on Wednesday but was not arrested.

In the annual press freedom ranking published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Hong Kong has steadily plummeted, dropping from 18th place in 2002 to 80th this year.

Source: Challenges en temps réel : accueil by www.challenges.fr.

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