Hong Kong police have arrested six people from an independent news website for “conspiracy to publish seditious publications”.
Both current and former staff members of Stand News were among those targeted.
More than 200 police officers were also sent to raid the publication’s office, with search operations still underway.
Police said in a statement that they were authorised to “search and seize relevant journalistic materials”.
The current and former chief editors of Stand News were among those arrested, as well as pop star turned democracy icon Denise Ho, who was a former board member.
She confirmed in a Facebook post that she had been arrested on the same charge, and had been taken to Western District Police Station.
Those arrested – three men and three women – are aged between 34 and 73 years old.
Hong Kong will ‘always need journalists’
Footage posted on Stand News’ Facebook page also showed multiple police officers at the door of deputy assignment director Ronson Chan early Wednesday morning.
Mr Chan was not arrested but he was taken in for questioning by police.
The night before, Mr Chan had hosted the annual dinner of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), of which he is chairperson. In a speech, he referenced the closure of Apple Daily, saying that the incident had “shaken” Hong Kong.
He concluded by saying the city would “always need the truth and always need journalists …. no matter how difficult the road ahead is, the [Hong Kong Journalists Association] will not fall down”.
Earlier this year, hundreds of police raided the premises of the now defunct Apple Daily – a publication known for being a vocal critic of the Hong Kong and Chinese leadership.
Its assets were frozen, executives were detained and the paper shut down soon after.
Its closure left Stand News as one of the last openly pro-democratic publications in the city. It was among a handful of relatively new online news portals that especially gained prominence during the 2019 pro-democracy protests.
The arrests also come a day after media tycoon Jimmy Lai, the founder of Apple Daily, was slapped with the same charge even as he serves a jail sentence for a litany of separate charges against him.
The HKJA said in a statement that it was “deeply concerned” about Wednesday’s incident, and urged “the government to protect press freedom in accordance with the Basic Law.”
The Basic Law, which came into effect when Hong Kong was handed back to China from Britain, protects rights such as freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.
Hong Kong authorities have been increasingly cracking down on dissent in the city, following the imposition of a national security law.
The controversial law criminalises secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces, and carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Critics says the law effectively reduces Hong Kong’s judicial autonomy and made it easier to punish demonstrators and activists.