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Police in Hong Kong arrested six senior current and former staff members of an online media organisation, authorities said on Wednesday morning.
The six have been arrested for “conspiracy to publish seditious publications,” the government added in a press release.
Hong Kong broadcaster TVB said the six are current or former staff from pro-democracy news website Stand News.
News agency AFP reported that Stand News acting editor-in-chief Patrick Lam was being led away in handcuffs.
Former editor-in-chief Chung Pui-kuen and four board members who resigned in June were among those arrested, according to local media.
Police raid office, houses
The national security police were seen hauling boxes from the Stand News office around lunchtime Wednesday, AFP reported.
Hong Kong police said in a press release that they had conducted a search against an “online media company,” deploying over “200 uniformed and plainclothes police officers.”
The official police statement did not identify those who were arrested but said they were three men and three women, aged 34 – 73.
DW correspondent Phoebe Kong said officers of the Hong Kong police’s national security department searched the home of Hong Kong Journalists Association chairman Ronson Chan.
Chan, who is also a deputy editor at Stand News, said that police confiscated his computer, mobile telephone, tablet device, press pass and bank records during the early morning raid.
He was taken away for questioning but was later released, his organisation said.
“Stand News has always conducted professional news reporting, this is beyond doubt,” Chan told reporters. “Criminal charges won’t change this fact.”
Police said in a statement that they were conducting a search with a warrant authorising them “to search and seize relevant journalistic materials.”
Stand News posted a video on Facebook of police officers saying they had a warrant to investigate the “conspiracy to publish seditious publications.”
A ‘dangerous precedent’
Eric Lai, Hong Kong law fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Asian Law, told DW that the arrests would be a “dangerous precedent” as the government can arrest people “retroactively.”
“The charge of seditious publication was also used to charge the unionists who published the children’s book a few months ago,” Lai said, referring to five people being detained in July for publishing a book called Defenders of the Sheep Village.
“It was quite disturbing because seditious law in Hong Kong is a kind of speech crime that the government can use whenever it needs, once they interpret any expression or publications that are anti-government.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) described the raid as “an open assault on Hong Kong’s already tattered press freedom” and called for charges to be dropped.
A crackdown on dissent
This is not the first time Hong Kong police have conducted raids on journalists.
In June, hundreds of police raided the premises of the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily. The paper’s executives were arrested for “collusion with a foreign country.”
Hong Kong prosecutors filed an additional “seditious publications” charge against Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai on Tuesday.
Hong Kong passed a controversial national security law in June of last year.
Earlier this month, Hong Kong held a “patriots-only” legislative election, which critics said marginalised pro-democracy candidates.
This article was originally published on Deutsche Welle.