All staffers were dismissed immediately, and it shut down its website and social media pages at 11pm. Previous stories have been deleted.

It spelt an abrupt end to the seven-year-old outlet, which became the most prominent voice for the pro-democracy camp following the closure of Apple Daily.

While the 26-year-old newspaper printed a million copies in its last edition in June, Stand News walked down the same path half a year later in a more subdued way. And it was prepared.

A Stand News reporter said the outlet has switched to paying salaries at the beginning of each month “for some time,” so most of the employees, except several new-comers, have received wages for December already.

“Even though we have always known that we are being targeted, we are still angry about it. All we did was news reporting,” he said.

Another reporter said with Apple Daily's precedence, colleagues had been thinking which outlet would be next. “When the time finally arrived, we are still shocked. It's hard to accept,” he said.

There were both experienced and young reporters, many of whom made the difficult decision to stay or to join the industry despite the government's tightening grip over the past year.

“Stand News carried stories disliked by those in power... it will be very difficult to run sensitive stories in the future,” he said.

Back in 2012, Tony Tsoi Tung-ho, Leung Man-tao, Simon Lau Sai Leung and Gregory Sung Hon-sang founded House News, an online media. It carried blogs and news related to politics, finance, culture and environmental protection.

However, the outlet shut down in late-July in 2014 – just before the Occupy Movement started, with Tsoi saying that the media could not make ends meet and he was worried about the political atmosphere at that time.

A few months later, Tsoi revamped the outlet and renamed it Stand News. It started operation in late-December 2014 after the Occupy Movement came to an end.

But the media could not avoid the political storm as large scale protests broke out in 2019 against the fugitive bill, which would see Hongkongers sent back to mainland for trial.

Stand News was known for its live coverage during the unrest. When white-clad men attacked commuters at Yuen Long MTR station on July 21, 2019, its reporter Gwyneth Ho Kwai-lam was one of the first reporters to arrive at the scene. She showed the fights live, and was beaten by the attackers herself.

Following the passing of the national security law, Stand News continued to run controversial stories. In October this year, Stand News collaborate with The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and disclosed the “Pandora Papers”. It said the former chief executive Leung Chun-ying didn't declare financial interest of a Japanese company during his term in the office. The report added Leung sold his shares of the company for 200,000 GBP (about HK$2.3 million) in 2015.

In early December, it published an investigative report and revealed that Deputy Director of Immigration Benson Kwok Joo-fung and Principal Immigration Officer Jacky Wong Ki each received a luxurious hamper from Evergrande executive director Andrew Huang Xiangui on September 17, four days before the Mid-Autumn Festival.

After national security police raided the headquarters of Next Digital, froze its assets and arrested its executives and directors for colluding with foreign forces in June, Stand News has started taking precautions.

It took down all commentaries -- written by bloggers and readers -- published in or before May temporarily, saying they would only be republished upon writers’ permission. It also stopped receiving donation from the public.

Six including Yu Ka-fai, Chow Tat-chi, Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, Denise Ho Wan-si, Fong Man-sun and Joseph Lian Yi-zheng also stepped down as directors following the raid. Only the two founding directors -- Tony Tsoi and former chief editor Chung Pui-kuen – remained.

Another warning signal was sounded when Secretary for Security Chris Tang Ping-keung slammed Stand News over two reports – one about the clashes at the Chinese University of Hong Kong during the unrest, and another about the smart prison at Tai Tam Gap Correctional Institution in Shek O. He said the reports were factually wrong and demonized the smart prison.

On Wednesday, police arrested acting editor-in-chief Lam Shiu-tung and former chief editor Chung for conspiracy to publish seditious content.

Former board members of the news outlet -- Ng, Ho, Chow and Fang -- were also arrested, as well as Chung’s wife Chan Pui-man, the former associate publisher of the now-defunct Apple Daily. She was arrested at the Tai Lam Correctional Institution.

Tsoi, who has emigrated to Australia, is also wanted for the same offense, sources said.

Senior government and public administration lecturer from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Ivan Choy Chi-keung, said he can feel the government holding a tighter grip on the media and “they are not done yet even after the closure of Apple Daily”.

Police did not elaborate on the details of the blogs and articles that were seen as illegal so people have no idea where the red line is, according to Choy.

“This might have made other bloggers feel intimidated and wondered if their articles might be involved as well."

Hong Kong Journalists Association chairman Ronson Chan Ron-sing, who was a Stand News deputy assignment editor, said he respected the media's decision to close down.

“This is a sad day, and I hope the media sector can hang in there, and they must show persistence,” Chan said. “I'm reluctant to part with the company, but still have to say goodbye," he said.