Denise Ho, a Cantopop singer and pro-democracy activist was arrested at her home in Hong Kong, Wednesday, amid charges of “conspiracy to publish seditious material.”
Ho Arrested with Other Stand News Board Members
Ho was one of six former board members of the pro-democracy media group Stand News, who were arrested by Hong Kong’s National Security Police.
Ho had resigned from the Stand News board in June.
After being detained for 36 hours, Ho, along with three other Stand News board members, Margaret Ng, Chow Tat-chi, and Christine Fang, were released on bail. Editors Chung Pui-kuen and Patrick Lam remain in custody.
“Thank you friends for all your kind messages,” Ho tweeted. “I have been released on bail and have returned home safely.”
Thank you friends for all your kind messages, I have been released on bail and have returned home safely.♥️🙏🏿
— Denise Ho (@hoccgoomusic) December 30, 2021
While the board members have not been officially charged, they face serious consequences should they be found guilty. The maximum sentence is life in prison.
Arrests Come Amid Crackdown on Pro-Democracy Media
Stand News was the last remaining pro-democracy publication in Hong Kong.
The arrests follow Apple Daily‘s publisher, Jimmy Lai being sentenced Tuesday to 13 months imprisonment for organising and taking part in a banned Tiananmen Square candlelight vigil.
Lai has been held in prison since December 2020, when he was arrested for violating the National Security Law. Apple Daily was the largest pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong before closing in June.
Chief Executive and Police Defend Arrests
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam denied that the arrests were part of a greater effort to curtail freedom of the press and told reporters, “These actions have nothing to do with so-called suppression of press freedom. Journalism is not seditious … but seditious activities could not be condoned under the guise of news reporting.”
Li Kwai-wah, senior superintendent of the Police National Security Department said, “We are not targeting reporters, we are not targeting the media, we just targeted national security offences.”
International Concern Mounts Over Arrests
Antony Blinken, The U.S. Secretary of State, tweeted his concern following the arrests, saying, “Deeply concerned by the closure of Stand News and related arrests in Hong Kong. A confident government that is unafraid of the truth embraces a free press. We call on the Hong Kong authorities to stop targeting the independent media and release those unjustly detained.”
Deeply concerned by the closure of Stand News and related arrests in Hong Kong. A confident government that is unafraid of the truth embraces a free press. We call on the Hong Kong authorities to stop targeting the independent media and release those unjustly detained.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) December 30, 2021
Irwin Cotler, the former Justice Minister of Canada, and a human rights lawyer said earlier this year, “What we’re seeing is a frontal assault not only on media freedom, not only on the safety and security of journalists, not only on the democracy movement — but on democracy itself in Hong Kong.”
Mélanie Joly, the Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister tweeted, “Canada will always stand up to support democracy and freedom of the press. 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.”
Canada will always stand up to support democracy and freedom of the press. 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.
— Mélanie Joly (@melaniejoly) December 29, 2021
Ho’s Arrest Sparks Fears Amongst Pro-Democracy Groups
A member of the student pro-democracy group, Hongkongers at McGill, told CBC that the arrests were “terrifying for our group. We’re all worried that one day it will be one of us or one of our friends in Hong Kong that will be arrested after they arrest all the big famous so-called activists. It shows China’s dedication to censorship and how it also affects Canadians.”
The student also noted the importance of Ho’s sexuality saying, “One thing that she really showed us is that we would never be free without democracy and if we want LGBTQ rights or other sorts of rights, we really should continue to fight for democracy in Hong Kong.”
Ho Came Out in 2012 at Hong Kong Pride Parade
Ho became famous as a singer before branching out into acting. Ho came out at Hong Kong’s Pride Parade in 2012 and was the first mainstream female singer in Hong Kong to come out.
“As a celebrity, I think I have an obligation, a duty to stand forward for the sake of love and equality,” Ho told attendees at the parade.
“For many years, when I faced questions from the media, I always felt that sexual orientation is a personal matter, that there is no need to label yourself or tell the public. But in 2012 when one would expect more acceptance and progress (in terms of gay equality), I find that there is still discrimination and prejudice. I feel that silence is no longer an option,” Ho said.
Ho’s Political Activism Takes Professional Toll
In 2014, Ho became politically active, taking an active role in the Umbrella Movement, whose aim was to try and ensure that Hong Kong would continue to maintain some of its political sovereignty apart from China. Ho later became an outspoken pro-democracy activist and spoke before the United Nations and the U.S. Congress.
In July 2019, speaking before the U.N. Human Rights Council, Ho urged members to “protect the people of Hong Kong and remove China from council.”
As a result of her international activism, Ho suffered immediate repercussions both personally and professionally. She was blacklisted in China and labelled “Hong Kong poison.” Lancome cancelled a promotional concert featuring Ho in 2016, citing “safety reasons.”
“I have this younger generation who listens to my music,” Ho told CNN in 2017. “So, I think I have this responsibility to do the right thing, and not spread fear by my actions.”