The Foreign Ministry's representative in the SAR has rejected as "misleading" criticism from the European Union's External Action Service and the Foreign Correspondents' Club of an operation by national security police against Stand News.
The online media outlet announced on Wednesday that it was ceasing operations and laying off all staff, hours after seven people linked to the group were arrested and $61 million worth of assets was frozen. Police said they were investigating whether articles and opinion pieces it published had breached the law.
A spokesperson for the Office of the Commissioner of the Foreign Ministry said comments from the EU's external affairs division and the FCC had "vilified Hong Kong's rule of law and freedom, and emboldened anti-China elements in Hong Kong".
The actions of the police and the arrests were in accordance with the rule of law and would safeguard national security, the rule of law and public order, the spokesperson said, according to the Xinhua news agency.
The FCC said in a statement earlier that the arrests were a "further blow to press freedom in Hong Kong" and would "continue to chill the media environment". The club said it was not commenting on the legality of the actions, but it urged the authorities to respect press freedom, as protected under the Basic Law.
A spokesman for the EU, Peter Stano, said in a tweet that the arrests marked a further deterioration in press freedom in the SAR.
The Foreign Ministry spokesperson added in response: "Facts cannot be twisted and the historical trend cannot be reversed.
"No slander can distort the fact that Hong Kong enjoys a highly-developed media sector and press freedom, nor can it prevent Hong Kong from opening a new chapter in transforming from chaos to stability and prosperity."
The spokesperson described as "black sheep" those who endanger national security and undermine the rule of law and public order under the cover of journalism, adding that such people were tarnishing press freedom and would be held accountable.