More than 200 Hong Kong police officers raided the office of the independent website Stand News and arrested leaders of the news organization on December 29, according to Western news outlets. Three women and three men were arrested, according to the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP). Among those arrested was Denise Ho, a singer, pro-democracy activist and former board member of Stand News.

Hong Kong's 'most prominent pro-democracy media outlet'

The Guardian noted that the police had suspected the leaders of conspiring to distribute seditious articles.

The BBC quoted the organization's Facebook page as saying that the online publication was closing, its website would not be updated and its posts on social media would be deleted within 24 hours. The Guardian said Stand News had been the "most prominent pro-democracy media outlet." Its closure had come months after the demise of another popular pro-democracy publication, the Apple Daily, and the arrest of its publisher Jimmy Lai, The Guardian added.

In a tweet, the Chinese state-run English language newspaper Global Times said Hong Kong's news media was being encouraged "to operate in line with the law." Journalists "endangering the national security" could "not expect any privileges," the tweet said.

Sedition was not mentioned in the 2020 national security law which had been imposed on Hong Kong by the government of mainland China, The Guardian noted. But recently Hong Kong authorities had become increasingly zealous in enforcing a colonial-era Crime Ordinance against sedition, the newspaper said.

Hong Kong police were not revealing the names of those arrested, the Associated Press said.

The news agency noted that Ho had been identified by Hong Kong media as one of the arrested and the singer had confirmed this on social media. Two other former board members, Christine Fang and Margaret Ng, were said to have been arrested, according to HKFP. The assets of Stand News had also been frozen, the HKFP said. A total of seven people have been arrested so far, according to the South China Morning Post and the Global Times.

Local journalists express concern

On the same day as the raid on the Stand News office, police had interrogated the organization’s Deputy Assignment Director Ronson Chan and then released him, the BBC said. The broadcaster noted that Chan was also the chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Association. The HKFP quoted from a statement in which the association expressed its concern "that the police have repeatedly arrested senior members of the media and searched the offices of news organizations containing large quantities of journalistic materials within a year."

Stand News had been created as a not-for-profit organization in 2014 and had a pro-democracy orientation, the HKFP recalled. The news organization had been nominated for the Reporters Without Borders’s 2021 Press Freedom Prize for Independence in November, the HKFP said.

A short video showing police officers removing material from the Stand News office was posted on Twitter by HKFP.

'Tattered press freedom'

Steven Butler, of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said the arrests had been "an open assault on Hong Kong's already tattered press freedom" in a statement on his organization's website The organization said that, according to its 2021 prison census, "China remains the world’s worst jailer of journalists for the third year in a row."

In a number of videos posted on YouTube, Denise Ho addresses the human rights situation in Hong Kong and the role of the artist in political activism.

Hong Kong pro-democracy activists Nathan Law and Joshua Wang have each published a book recently. This month, Law, who is exiled in the U.K., came out with Freedom: How We Lose It and How We Fight Back. Last year, Wang, who is imprisoned in Hong Kong, released Unfree Speech: The Threat to Global Democracy and Why We Must Act, Now. Wang's book has an introduction written by dissident artist Ai Weiwei.