HONG KONG, Dec 30 (Reuters) – Two former senior editors arrested in a Hong Kong police crackdown on a pro-democracy media organisation were charged on Thursday with conspiring to publish seditious material, authorities said.
About 200 police raided the office of the Stand News online publication on Wednesday, froze its assets and arrested seven current and former senior editors and former board members.
Media advocacy groups and some Western governments criticised the raid and arrests as a sign of further erosion of press freedoms since China imposed a sweeping national security law in the former British colony last year.
The National Security Department of the police said in a statement it had laid charges of conspiracy to publish seditious material against two men and an online media company.
"The other arrestees are being detained for further enquires," the department said in a statement.
While it did not identify the two or the company a charge sheet filed at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court and seen by Reuters identified them as former Stand News chief editor Chung Pui-kuen and Patrick Lam, acting chief editor.
The same charge of conspiring "to publish and/or reproduce seditious publications" was levelled against Best Pencil (Hong Kong) Limited, the organisation behind Stand News.
Reuters could not reach the pair, nor any of the other five still in detention, including four former board members of Stand News, for comment. Their legal representatives could also not be reached nor could Reuters reach any representative of Best Pencil.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise that wide-ranging individual rights, including a free press, would be protected.
But pro-democracy activists and rights groups say freedoms have been eroded, in particular since China imposed the new national security law after months of at times violent pro-democracy protests.
Hong Kong's government denies that and its leader, Carrie Lam, said the action against Stand News was aimed at seditious activity not the suppression of the media.