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US calls on China and Hong Kong to release Stand News employees

US calls on China and Hong Kong to release Stand News employees
Stand News acting chief editor Patrick Lam is escorted by police as they leave after the police searched his office in Hong Kong, China, December 29, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday (Dec 29) called on Chinese and Hong Kong authorities to immediately release Stand News employees arrested after a police raid that shut down the publication. 

"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," Blinken said in a statement, referring to the People's Republic of China.

Police in Hong Kong, where Beijing has been ramping up control, on Wednesday burst into the offices of Stand News, seizing phones, computers and documents and taking away its editor-in-chief.

Stand News later said it was immediately ceasing operations.

"By silencing independent media, PRC and local authorities undermine Hong Kong's credibility and viability," Blinken said. 

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

Stand News, set up in 2014 as a non-profit organisation, was the most prominent remaining pro-democracy publication in Hong Kong after a national security investigation this year led to the closure of jailed tycoon Jimmy Lai's Apple Daily tabloid.

The Stand News raid raises more concerns about press freedom in the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise that its freedoms, including a free press, would be protected.

"Journalism is not sedition," Blinken said.

INTERNATIONAL UPROAR

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 towards the Hong Kong government.

Among those arrested were the editor-in-chief, Patrick Lam, and Hong Kong pop star Denise Ho, a board member who resigned in June.

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 organisations to be free from government control," said Dan Kubiske, co-chair of the group's international community.

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.

China's crackdown in Hong Kong is one of a number of issues that has drawn fierce US criticism and fuelled tensions between the world's largest economies.

Washington has led a diplomatic boycott of next year's Winter Olympics in Beijing over what it considers genocide against the mostly Muslim Uyghur people.

The US has also accused China of unfair trade policies and of endangering security through its assertive moves in the dispute-rife South China Sea and East China Sea.

Source: AGENCIES/vc

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