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HK Broadband blocks protest website

2021-01-14 HKT 17:34
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  • Hong Kong Broadband says the move to cut off access to the website is in compliance with the national security law.
    Hong Kong Broadband says the move to cut off access to the website is in compliance with the national security law.
Vicky Wong reports
Hong Kong Broadband Network (HKBN) said on Thursday it has blocked a website that publishes material mainly on 2019 anti-government protests, to comply with the city's national security law, marking the first censorship of a local website under the law.

While the internet in mainland China is heavily censored and access to foreign social media platforms and news sites is blocked, residents in Hong Kong have so far enjoyed greater freedoms under the One Country, Two Systems framework.

"We have disabled the access to the website in compliance with the requirement issued under the National Security Law," a spokesperson for internet service provider HKBN said in an email to Reuters, adding that the action was taken on January 13.

The website, HKChronicles, first reported disruptions to its service last week.

On Sunday, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported, citing unnamed sources, that Hong Kong police had invoked the city's national security law for the first time to block HKChronicles, which curates anti-government posts and publishes personal information on Hong Kong police officers. The news has caused concern among local residents and activists community.

"This case represents a clear step towards the end of a relatively free and open internet in Hong Kong," said Fergus Ryan, an analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Other major internet service providers in Hong Kong, China Mobile and PCCW, did not immediately reply to requests for comments when contacted by Reuters on Thursday afternoon.

HKBN did not comment on why Hong Kong Chronicles faced issues last week.

The Security Bureau last week in an email declined to comment on specific cases but said the police "will act on the basis of actual circumstances and according to the law."

The police did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters on Thursday.

Article 43 of the national security law gives police the power to order internet service providers to remove any material published online deemed be a national security breach.

The Security Bureau said offences endangering national security include secession, subversion, organisation and perpetration of terrorist activities and collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security. The offences are punishable with up to life in jail, according to the security law.

"All relevant action will be taken strictly in accordance with the law," a Security Bureau spokeswoman added.

Under the controversial security legislation imposed by Beijing in June, the police can ask service providers to restrict access to electronic platforms or messages that could pose a threat to national security.

In mainland China, access to foreign social media platforms and news sites such as Facebook and the New York Times is blocked by what is called the Great Firewall, which filters and blocks traffic between Chinese and overseas servers.

Rights groups have voiced concern that the enactment of the national security law may herald the introduction of a censorship mechanism similar to the Great Firewall in Hong Kong.

"Closing this website represents another brick in the Great Firewall that Beijing is gradually building up around Hong Kong," Ryan said.

Lokman Tsui, an assistant professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who specialises in privacy and online communications, said: "In the long term, it will push activism to go further underground, like people already switching to use Signal," referring to a chat messaging app. (Reuters)