The federal government has added its voice to critics of this week’s police raid on a pro-democracy news outlet in Hong Kong in which a Canadian human rights activist and pop singer was among those arrested.
Foreign Minister Melanie Joly raised Ottawa’s concern following Wednesday’s raid on Stand News that saw seven people arrested, including Canadian pop singer and activist Denise Ho.
Ho has since been released from police custody.
“We are deeply concerned about the arrests in Hong Kong of current and former members of the board and staff of Stand News, including Canadian citizen and activist Denise Ho,” Joly wrote on Twitter.
“Freedom of expression and the media remain cornerstones of democracy and essential for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. We will continue to speak out and denounce the violations of these freedoms, in association with our international allies ”.
Ho, who is a board member of Stand News, confirmed his release via Twitter on Thursday, writing, “Thank you folks for all your kind messages, I was released on bail and returned home safe and sound.”
While Ho and four others were released, two former editors were charged with sedition and denied bail. Those charges came a day after the news outlet, which was one of the last openly critical voices in Hong Kong, said it would cease operations.
The seven were arrested on Wednesday under a criminal ordinance dating from Hong Kong’s days as a British colony before 1997, when it was returned to China with Beijing’s promise to maintain Western-style freedoms for 50 years.
Ottawa criticizes the police raid on the #HongKong news outlet that saw a Canadian arrested. #CDNPoli
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam defended the raid on Stand News amid a broader crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous city, telling reporters that “inciting other people … could not be tolerated under the guise of of news reports “.
Joly wasn’t the only one who expressed her concern.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also criticized the arrests, saying that by silencing independent media, Chinese and local authorities undermine Hong Kong’s “credibility and viability. A secure government that is not afraid of the truth. embrace a free press. “
Jenny Kwan, the new Vancouver-East Democratic MP who was born and raised in Hong Kong, said she is heartbroken by the turn of events as the arrests show that freedoms and human rights in the region are being ignored by the communist government of China.
“It clearly illustrates that Hong Kong has become a police state,” he said.
The arrests and criticism come days after a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said China and Canada are at a “crossroads.”
“Does Canada see China as a partner or a rival?” said spokesman Zhao Lijian. “This is a fundamental question related to the future of bilateral relations that Canada must think about.”
The Canadian government has previously criticized what many see as Beijing’s decision to end democracy in Hong Kong, which critics say is a violation of China’s deal with Britain when it took over the government of the former British colony in 1997.
Relations between the two countries hit a record low after China detained two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, in apparent retaliation for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver in December 2018.
The Michaels were detained nearly three years before US authorities, who wanted Meng to be extradited from Canada to face fraud charges, agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement. Kovrig and Spavor were released shortly after Meng left Canada.
The federal government has also announced a diplomatic boycott of the February Winter Olympics in Beijing, citing extensive human rights abuses in China, including crimes against its Muslim Uighur population and military provocations towards Taiwan.
Meanwhile, the Trudeau Liberals are expected to announce a decision soon on Huawei’s involvement in its next-generation 5G internet network.
Canada is currently the last of the Five Eyes intelligence exchange members to decide the key international security issue. The alliance includes the US, which sees Huawei as a security threat, as well as Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
This Canadian Press report was first published on December 30, 2021.
– With Associated Press files.
This story was produced with financial assistance from Facebook and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.