Independent Hong Kong news outlet Citizen News announced on Sunday that it will close its operations from January 4 due to declining press freedom, AP reported.

This is the third media outlet to shut down since June, after pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily and online news website Stand News.

Citizen News said on Facebook that it has to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone on board. The news outlet said that it was faced with “not just pouring rains or blowing winds, but hurricanes and tsunamis”.

“We can no longer strive to turn our beliefs into reality without fear because of the sea change in the society over the past two years and the deteriorating media environment,” it added.

The news outlet had begun operations in 2017, according to CNN. It had been set up by several senior reporters from Hong Kong, and was supported completely by crowdfunding.

The announcement by Citizen News came days after officials on December 29 raided Stand News and arrested seven persons for allegedly conspiring to publish seditious material. Stand News announced on the same day that it will stop its operations.

Among those who were arrested were singer Denise Ho and former legislator Margaret Ng. Both of them were part of Stand News’ board of directors. Two of the those arrested were later formally charged with sedition.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam defended the action against Stand News, claiming that it was aimed at stopping “seditious activities”, Reuters reported.

“These actions have nothing to do with so-called suppression of press freedom,” she said. “Journalism is not seditious... but seditious activities could not be condoned under the guise of news reporting.”

The United States criticised the raids against Stand News and arrests made in connection with alleged seditious articles.

“Journalism is not sedition,” it said in a statement. “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.”

Since China imposed the national security law in Hong Kong in June 2020, it has arrested several people, including many pro-democracy activists.

The unprecedented law overrides local laws and give sweeping powers to security agencies. It is aimed at curbing anti-government protests – which rocked Hong Kong in 2019 – and prohibiting subversion, separatism, “acts of foreign interference”, and terrorism. These charges are often used in the Chinese mainland to stifle dissidents and political opponents.

In December 2020, Hong Kong’s media tycoon Jimmy Lai was charged under the law on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces.

A month before it, activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam were taken into custody after they pleaded guilty to charges related to demonstrations outside the police headquarters during anti-government protests in 2019. They were also charged under the security law.

In January last year, 53 pro-democracy activists, including former legislators, were arrested for allegedly violating the national security law

Last month, authorities at the University of Hong Kong had also removed a famous statue commemorating people who were killed by Chinese authorities at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

China also was on top of a list as the country that has jailed the highest number of journalists for the third year in a row in 2021, data published by the Committee to Protect Journalists showed in December.

As many as 50 people are behind bars as of December 1 in China. Of these, eight are from Hong Kong.