The federal government has added its voice to those criticizing 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 Affairs Minister Melanie Joly expressed Ottawa’s concern in the aftermath of Wednesday's raid on Stand News that saw seven people arrested, including Canadian activist and pop singer Denise Ho.
Ho has since been released from police custody.
“We are deeply concerned by the arrests in Hong Kong of current and former board and staff members from Stand News, including Canadian citizen and activist Denise Ho,” Joly wrote on Twitter.
“Freedom of media and expression remain cornerstones of democracy and essential to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. We will continue to speak out and denounce violations of these freedoms, in partnership with our international allies.”
Ho, who is a member of Stand News's board, confirmed her release via Twitter on Thursday, writing: "Thank you friends for all your kind messages, I have been released on bail and have returned home safely."
While Ho and four others have been released, two former editors have been charged with sedition and denied bail. Those charges came one 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 crime ordinance that dates from Hong Kong’s days as a British colony before 1997, when it was returned to China with a promise from Beijing that it would keep Western-style freedoms for 50 years.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam defended the raid on Stand News amid a wider crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous city, telling reporters that "inciting other people ... could not be condoned under the guise of news reporting.”
Joly wasn't alone in expressing her concern.
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken also criticized the arrests, saying that by silencing independent media, Chinese and local authorities undermine Hong Kong’s "credibility and viability. A confident government that is unafraid of the truth embraces a free press.”
Jenny Kwan, the New Democrat MP for Vancouver-East who was born and raised in Hong Kong, said she is heartbroken by the turn of events as the arrests show freedoms and human rights in the region are being ignored by China’s Communist government.
“It clearly illustrates that Hong Kong has turned into a police state," she said.
The arrests and criticism come days after a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said China-Canada are at a “crossroads.”
“Does Canada see China as a partner or a rival?” spokesman Zhao Lijian said. “This is a fundamental question bearing on the future of bilateral ties that Canada must think through.”
The Canadian government has previously criticized what many see as Beijing’s move to stamp out democracy in Hong Kong, which critics say is a violation of the China’s agreement with Britain when it took over governance of the former British colony in 1997.
Relations between the two countries hit an all-time 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 held nearly three years before U.S. authorities, who had wanted Meng 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 Chinese human rights abuses, including crimes against its Muslim Uyghur population and military provocations towards Taiwan.
Meanwhile, the Trudeau Liberals are expected to announce a decision soon on Huawei participation in its next-generation 5G internet network.
Canada is currently the last of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing members to decide the key international security issue. The alliance includes the U.S., which views Huawei as a security threat, as well as Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 30, 2021.
— With files from the Associated Press.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
The Canadian Press