Asia/Pacific

US condemns ‘unjust’ media arrests in Hong Kong

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The Biden administration is calling on the People’s Republic of China and Hong Kong authorities to release journalists and media executives arrested in recent days, claiming that their charges of sedition are unjust.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the arrest on Dec. 29 of seven senior staff of the Stand News website in Hong Kong and raid of their offices “have forced yet another of the few remaining bastions of free and independent media in Hong Kong to cease operations.”

“Journalism is not sedition,” the secretary said in a statement released Wednesday night. 

“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.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian dismissed criticisms by the U.S. as “a false pretense … to serve its true agenda of destabilizing Hong Kong.” China views international criticisms as interfering in its domestic affairs. 

Yet the criticism from the U.S. echoes outrage from other democratic governments and human rights groups who view the shutdown of the Hong Kong news outlet, and a raid of their offices carried out with a reported 200 officers, as part of an increasing campaign of intimidation and silencing of free speech.

Hong Kong authorities on Thursday charged two former senior Stand News editors with conspiring to publish seditious materials and denied them bail. However, four former board members would be allowed release pending charges, Reuters reported.

Those released included Denise Ho, a popular singer and prominent pro-democracy activist based in Hong Kong who holds Canadian citizenship. 

Human Rights Foundation (HRF) had earlier criticized Ho’s arrest and called the shut-down of Stand News, and arrest of its employees “a grave miscarriage of justice.”

“How many more innocent individuals in Hong Kong must be arrested before the international community responds?” HRF Chairman Garry Kasparov said in a statement. “We stand in solidarity with Ho and all the brave individuals wrongly imprisoned for simply exercising their basic rights.”

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said the arrests are “yet another example of Beijing authorities’ crackdown on free speech in Hong Kong” and called for unified calls of condemnation among the international community.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne wrote on Twitter that the raid on Stand News and arrests of journalists “continue the suppression of free speech and media in Hong Kong. [Australia] reiterates our call for media freedom and for the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong to be upheld.” 

The media arrests are being viewed as another example of Hong Kong’s eroding autonomy since Beijing imposed its National Security Law in 2020 on the territory, punishing vague acts of subversion and secession. 

Pro-democracy activists have criticized the law as Beijing’s strategy to tamp down dissent in Hong Kong, prompting months of protests that at times have turned violent. 

The U.S. has imposed a number of sanctions on individuals and entities that it says are carrying out or responsible for the suppression of Hong Kong’s autonomy, including Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam. 

Tags Antony Blinken Arrests of journalists Beijing China Hong Kong Hong Kong Media Sedition

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