The United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called on Chinese and Hong Kong authorities to immediately release staff members of the pro-democracy media outlet Stand News who were arrested after a police raid.
“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.
“By silencing independent media, PRC and local authorities undermine Hong Kong’s credibility and viability,” he added. “A confident government that is unafraid of the truth embraces a free press. Journalism is not sedition.”
In response, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Thursday that the raid and arrests were not aimed at the media industry. Lam said the demands of foreign governments to release the arrested individuals would be against the rule of law.
Seven current and former Stand News editors, board members and a journalist were arrested on Wednesday on charges of conspiracy to publish a seditious publication.
Among those who were arrested were chief editor Patrick Lam, as well as former board members, including popular singer and activist Denise Ho and former lawmaker Margaret Ng.
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).
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.