The United States on Wednesday called upon authorities in Hong Kong and China to release the seven people linked to now-shut online media outlet Stand News.

One of Hong Kong’s last pro-democracy media organisations shut down after the city-state raided its office on Wednesday and arrested current and former employees in connection to certain “seditious” articles.

In a statement issued later on Wednesday, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticised the police action.

“Journalism is not sedition,” the statement said. “We call on PRC [People’s Republic of China] and Hong Kong authorities to cease targeting Hong Kong’s free and independent media and to immediately release those journalists and media executives who have been unjustly detained and charged.”

Peter Stano, an external affairs spokesperson of the European Union said in a tweet that the raids and arrests marked a “further deterioration” of the press freedom in Hong Kong.

The United Nations Human Rights office also expressed its concern. “We urge the authorities to ensure that further proceedings fully respect rights to freedom of information, expression and association, as well as due process,” the global body said in a tweet.

Police action on Stand News

On Wednesday morning, around 200 police officers raided the office of Stand News. Set up in 2014 as a non-profit, Stand News is Hong Kong’s most vocal pro-democracy news outlet since newspaper Apple Daily ceased operations in June following multiple police raids and arrests of several editors.

The seven arrested persons included pop star-turned-activist Denise Ho and former legislator Margaret Ng, according to the South China Morning Post.

Stand News Chief Editor Chung Pui-kuen and acting Chief Editor Patrick Lam were also among the arrested, CNN reported, citing the Hong Kong Journalists Association.

At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Steve Li Kwai-wah, senior superintendent of the Hong Kong Police’s National Security Department said that the arrests were made in relation to “seditious articles” published between July 2020 and November 2021.

Li added that the police also froze assets worth 61 million Hong Kong dollars (over Rs 58 crore) during the raids at the media outlet’s office.

In a Facebook post later on Wednesday, Stand News announced that it had ceased operations and dismissed all its employees, CNN reported.