Secretary of State Antony Blinken denounced Hong Kong's arrest of seven employees of a pro-democracy news outlet and called on China to stop "targeting" the city's free press.
Hong Kong police on Thursday formally charged two people from Stand News with sedition, a day after the outlet said it would cease operations following a police raid on its office, resulting in the arrests.
Blinken had demanded the release of the journalists and media executives detained and charged in Wednesday’s raid.
"Freedom of expression, including media freedom, and access to information provided by an independent media are critical to prosperous and secure societies. These freedoms enabled Hong Kong to flourish as a global center for finance, trade, education, and culture," Blinken said in a statement.
"By silencing independent media, PRC and local authorities undermine Hong Kong’s credibility and viability. A confident government that is unafraid of the truth embraces a free press."
Politico reported that hundreds of Hong Kong police officers raided Stand News headquarters in the latest in a series of crackdowns on independent media and press freedoms in the city.
Stand News announced later Wednesday it would shut down immediately, delete social media pages, and dismiss all employees.
"Stand News's editorial policy was to be independent and committed to safeguarding Hong Kong’s core values of democracy, human rights, freedom, the rule of law and justice," the announcement said. "Thank you, readers, for your continued support."
Stand News, set up in 2014 as a nonprofit, was the most prominent remaining pro-democracy publication in Hong Kong after a national security investigation this year led to the closure of jailed tycoon Jimmy Lai's Apple Daily tabloid.
The Chinese Communist Party imposed a new national security law in 2020 in a bid to halt intense and sometimes violent protests.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has not explained how journalists can avoid breaking the broad, yet vague, national security law.
Last week, Lam met with top Chinese officials leaders in Beijing to report to them on the territory’s first legislative elections held under new laws ensuring that only “patriots” loyal to the ruling Chinese Communist Party could run as candidates.
As expected, the Dec. 19 elections for the 90-seat Legislative Council were swept by party-backed politicians who beat out the dwindling number of moderates and independents.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this story.
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