In early morning raids, hundreds of National Security police arrested six people linked to online media company Stand News, in a further blow to press freedoms in the city.
Cantopop singer-actress turned political activist Denise Ho was among six people arrested on suspicion of sedition by Hong Kong’s national security police force in early morning raids Wednesday (Dec. 29) targeting the online media company Stand News.
In a statement to local media, authorities said that they had arrested three men and three women, aged 34 to 73 “for conspiracy to publish seditious publications,” a crime punishable by up to two years in prison. Local media reported that Stand News news editor Ronson Chan, acting chief editor Patrick Lam, and former Stand News board members Ho and Margaret Ng were among those arrested. Ng is a former pro-democracy legislator and Chan is currently also head of the Hong Kong Journalists Association.
The move comes as Hong Kong authorities continue their crackdown on pro-democracy elements in the city, which reached their zenith during the large-scale protests of 2019, before being brutally suppressed by police. The focus on Stand News, a pro-democracy not-for-profit media company, comes on the heels of authorities arresting key figures at Apple Daily for similar charges. Formerly Hong Kong’s largest newspaper, Apple Daily was forced to close earlier this year and its founder Jimmy Lai imprisoned.
The arrests will be a further blow to press freedoms in Hong Kong and will lead to more questions about the viability of independent media companies operating in the territory and put further pressure on foreign media organizations to accelerate existing moves to shift regional headquarters to neighboring Asian countries.
Establishing herself as a recording artist in 2002, Ho is a household name in the Cantonese-speaking world for her music as much as her activism. In 2012, she came out as gay, becoming one of the highest-profile advocates of gay rights in Asia.
Her political activism stepped up during the 2014 Umbrella protests in Hong Kong and she was seen as one of the leading figures of the 2019 pro-democracy movement. In September 2019, Ho and other Hong Kong activists gave evidence at the U.S. Capitol and spoke with Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
In a statement released shortly after the arrests, PEN America praised Ho’s history of pro-democracy work. “By invoking an archaic colonial legislation to arrest artists, journalists, and activists like Denise Ho, Hong Kong authorities are sending a clear message of their brazen disregard for existing international safeguards of human rights, free speech, and creative expression, and shamelessly is attempting to eliminate Hong Kong’s human rights defenders from the public eye through high-profile arrests,” said Julie Trébault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America.
“By continuing to use legal instruments like the Crimes Ordinance and the National Security Law to attack and criminalize those who stand for pro-democratic free media and artistic freedom, Hong Kong’s government is showing no remorse in the face of international condemnation. We are deeply concerned by this state of affairs in Hong Kong and call for the immediate release of Denise Ho and others arrested in connection with these unjustified charges.”
This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.