Hong Kong singer Denise Ho granted bail in Stand News case
HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Hong Kong activist and singer Denise Ho was granted bail after being swept up in a raid on now-shuttered media outlet Stand News that escalated fears over eroding press freedoms in the city.
"Thank you friends for all your kind messages, I have been released on bail and have returned home safely," the pop star wrote on her verified Twitter account late Thursday (Dec 30) evening.
Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly had earlier expressed concern for Ho, a Canadian citizen.
Ho was among four former Stand News board members released on Thursday after their arrest by national security police on sedition charges on Wednesday. She had resigned from her position in June.
More than 200 police officers raided the outlet's newsroom and seized HK$61 million (S$11 million) of assets. Hours later, the publication announced it was folding and would delete its website.
The collapse of Stand News was the latest blow to civil society in Hong Kong after Beijing imposed a national security law on the city in June 2020. Since then, some of the city's largest labour unions have disbanded, international non-governmental organisations such as Amnesty International have left town, and its largest pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, closed under police pressure.
More than 160 people have now been arrested by the local national security department.
United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday urged Chinese authorities to stop arresting members of the media, adding that "journalism is not sedition".
On Thursday, Hong Kong's government denies targeting the media and curbing its freedoms. Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the action against Stand News was aimed at seditious activity.
"These actions have nothing to do with so-called suppression of press freedom," she told reporters. "Journalism is not seditious...but seditious activities could not be condoned under the guise of news reporting."
The Chinese Foreign Ministry's Hong Kong branch said in a statement that supporting freedom of the press was an excuse "to disrupt the stable and sound-governed Hong Kong".
Although Ho and the other three former Stand News board members were released, former top editors Chung Pui-kuen and Patrick Lam remain in custody after being charged on Thursday, the South China Morning Post reported.
Bail has become a contentious issue under the anti-sedition law, which was little used since its initial enactment in 1938 until the Hong Kong government recently revived it.The Court of Final Appeal ruled earlier this month that the higher threshold for bail set by the national security law can apply to other cases, such as sedition, when charges were brought by security police.
That has deepened concerns that the Beijing-drafted security law will be used to limit the rights of a wider group of defendants than just those accused of violating the four crime outlined in the measure.
Scores of those charged under the national security law have been held in pre-trial detention for almost a year.
"This is a significant departure from prior practice in Hong Kong, where bail was the norm for non-violent offences," Dr Thomas Kellogg, executive director at Georgetown University's Centre for Asian Law, wrote in a commentary in the Hong Kong Free Press.