HONG KONG — The Hong Kong police on Wednesday arrested six current or former senior staff members of an outspoken pro-democracy news website in a morning raid, yet another crackdown by the government on the city’s once-vibrant independent press.
The six were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to publish seditious material, according to a statement from the police, which did not specify the news outlet. But Stand News, a seven-year-old online publication, posted video footage on Facebook showing police officers at the doors of one of its deputy editors, Ronson Chan, about 6 a.m. It was not immediately clear if he was arrested.
More than 200 officers entered the publication’s headquarters in Hong Kong and conducted a search, the police said.
Patrick Lam, the acting editor in chief of Stand News, was escorted away by officers. Denise Ho, a popular local singer who had served on the board of the news site, was also arrested, according to a post on her Facebook page.
Hong Kong officials have targeted critics across civil society, including in the news media, since the Chinese Communist Party imposed a national security law on the city in June 2020 to quell months of fierce pro-democracy protests.
Earlier this year, Apple Daily, perhaps the city’s best-known pro-democracy newspaper, was forced to close after multiple police raids of its newsroom and the arrests of several top editors and its founder, Jimmy Lai.
On Tuesday, Mr. Lai was charged with a new accusation of sedition related to the newspaper, as were six other former senior employees. Mr. Lai, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent opposition voices, had already been sentenced to 20 months in prison in relation to his support of the pro-democracy movement, and he faces up to life in prison on other charges.
Officials have sent warning letters to foreign news outlets about coverage they dislike, and several foreign journalists have been denied visas to work in the former British colony. The government has also announced plans to enact a law against so-called fake news.
After Apple Daily folded, Stand News became one of the city’s last openly pro-democracy outlets, and officials made clear that it could be targeted next.
Hong Kong’s security secretary, Chris Tang, earlier this month accused the news site of “biased, smearing and demonizing” reports about conditions at a prison in the city. Lau Siu-Kai, an adviser to Beijing, was even more blunt, telling Chinese state media that “the survival room” for opposition news outlets was shrinking.
“Stand News will come into an end,” he said.
Mr. Chan, the Stand News editor whose home was apparently searched on Wednesday, also leads the Hong Kong Journalists Association, a trade organization for about 500 local journalists that has come under scrutiny.
Mr. Tang, the security secretary, accused the association in September of “infiltrating” campuses and recruiting unprofessional student journalists; he also suggested that it had received foreign funding. The security law criminalizes collusion with foreign forces.
Mr. Chan had remained defiant after those accusations. In an interview in September with Hong Kong’s public broadcaster — which itself has come under severe official pressure — he denied any violations of the security law.
“We’re aware of what the Hong Kong Journalists Association means to the media industry and to Hong Kong society, so we will not dissolve easily,” he said. “We will do our best to discharge our duty until the last moment.”
Hong Kong officials have denied any crackdown on press freedom. In an appearance at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong in September, Regina Ip, a pro-Beijing lawmaker, pointed to Stand News as proof that freedom of speech was intact.
“The freedom of expression is still alive and well,” she said. “Hong Kong Stand News — all these websites are still carrying on as usual.”
Joy Dongcontributed research.