Hong Kong Citizen News announces emergency shutdown after Stand News verdict

Hong Kong Citizen News announced that it would cease operations from Tuesday. In its statement on Sunday, the independent online news portal cited the deteriorating media environment in the city and the need to ensure the safety of its staff as the reason for its closure.

“Regrettably, the rapid changes in society and worsening environment for media make us unable to achieve our goal fearlessly. Amid this crisis, we have to first make sure everyone on the boat is safe,” it wrote.

It was further revealed that the shutdown of Citizen News, established in 2017, was a spur-of-a-moment decision prompted by the recent development on the Stand News case.

“The decision was made within a short period of time. The trigger point was the fate of Stand News,” said Chris Yeung, chief writer at Citizen News and former president of the Hong Kong Journalists Association. “We could not rule out that … we might be exposed to some risks.”

Magistrate Peter Law in the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court denied bail for former Stand News chief editor Chung Pui-Kuen and his successor acting chief editor Patrick Lam last week.

According to the charge sheet, the two were charged with conspiring “to publish and/or reproduce seditious publications,” along with Best Pencil (Hong Kong) Limited, the corporate entity behind Stand News. Media coverage is restricted due to Hong Kong laws on bail hearings.

This verdict comes a day after 200 officers raided the pro-democracy media organization on Wednesday. The national security department froze the media’s assets and arrested seven current and former senior editors and former board members, and the media was shut down in less than 10 hours after the raid.

Media advocacy groups criticized the move, labeling it as a sign of further erosion of press freedoms due to the sweeping national security law imposed by China in the former British colony last year.

The U.S. secretary of state, Antony Blinken, has urged China to “to cease targeting Hong Kong’s free and independent media.”

“A confident government that is unafraid of the truth embraces a free press,” Blinken said, adding that “journalism is not sedition” and “by silencing independent media, PRC and local authorities undermine Hong Kong’s credibility and viability”.

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