The U.S. State Department demanded Chinese and Hong Kong authorities to immediately release seven senior staff members of Stand News within hours of their arrest in a raid on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, around 200 Hong Kong police officers raided the publication’s office and arrested seven current and former members of the publication. The arrests and office raid led Stand News to dismiss its remaining journalists and close down its operations.
“The Hong Kong government’s December 29 raid and arrest of seven senior staff at Stand News have forced yet another of the few remaining bastions of free and independent media in Hong Kong to cease operations,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a Wednesday press statement.
Stand News had operated since 2014 and had a reputation for its pro-democracy editorial stance and support for increased autonomy for Hong Kong. The publication had been one of the few remaining news sources to report critical on Chinese government actions. Stand News had been one of the few openly critical news publications left to operate in Hong Kong after the Apple Daily, was forced to close amid a slew of police raids, arrests and charges that it was colluding with foreign elements to endanger national security.
Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai has also been arrested and charged with collusion with foreign elements in 2020. Lai, who is already jailed, was also charged with sedition on Tuesday, within hours of the arrests and raid on Stand News.
News outlets in Hong Kong have been under increased pressure from Hong Kong authorities after China passed new so-called “national security laws” that criminalized broadly defined acts of “sedition,” “subversion,” “secession” and “terrorism.”
Like the Apple Daily, Stand News has been accused of promoting sedition through its coverage.
“Journalism is not sedition,” Blinken said. “We call on [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.”
“Freedom of expression, including media freedom, and access to information provided by an independent media are critical to prosperous and secure societies,” Blinken continued. “These freedoms enabled Hong Kong to flourish as a global center for finance, trade, education, and culture. 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.”
In response to Blinken’s calls for the release of the Stand News journalists, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lijian Zhao defended China’s security laws and the arrests.
“Since the implementation of the Law on Safeguarding National Security, Hong Kong has returned to the right path of development and press freedom there has been better protected in a secure and stable environment with rule of law,” Zhao said in a Thursday press briefing. “This is a fact that cannot be denied by anyone without bias.”
Zhao said the U.S. is using “media freedom” as a false pretense to destabilize Hong Kong and accused the U.S. of hypocrisy in its own treatment of journalists.
“The US has seen press freedom deteriorating at home,” Zhao said. “According to reports, at least 117 journalists were arrested or detained in 2020 in the US, a staggering 1,200% increase from 2019. If the US has a ‘confident government that is unafraid of the truth,’ why does it seek the extradition of Julian Assange? Why not treat Edward Snowden like how it extols the so-called individuals in pursuit of truth?”
Zhao’s figure for U.S. arrests comes from a 2020 report by the Freedom Of The Press Foundation and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Many of those U.S. journalists arrested or detained in 2020 were detained while they covered protests and riots in the summer following the death of George Floyd. According to available CPJ data, no U.S. journalists are currently imprisoned in the U.S. By comparison, China currently imprisons 50 journalists.