Less than a year after China passed the Hong Kong National Security Law, seen as a big step forward to restrict the autonomy of the former British colony, the measure was used to block a website which publishes information on the wave of protests it has launched. the country in 2019.
The move marks the first censorship of a local website under the law, which has concerned residents and activists alike.
Hong Kong telecommunications provider the Hong Kong Broadband Network (HKBN) confirmed Thursday (14) that it has disabled access to the HKChronicles portal, which posts anti-government content and personal information about police officers from the city.
The site went offline on Wednesday (13), but had been having connection issues since last week. Naomi Chan, editor-in-chief of HKChronicles, said HKBN’s response is expected and will not affect portal operations. Efforts to find ways to restore access for Hong Kong citizens will continue, she said.
The Hong Kong Security Bureau did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters news agency – last week, without specifying a case, said police would act “on the basis of the actual circumstances and in accordance with the law”.
Supplier HKBN has not made any statement.
According to security legislation imposed by Beijing in June, police can ask service providers to restrict access to electronic platforms or messages that could pose a threat to national security.
The law criminalizes secession, terrorism, subversion and collusion with foreign forces – all punishable by life imprisonment, which was considered a concession by the Chinese Communist Party since in the mainland, death is the penalty. expected.
Again, access to social media platforms and foreign news sites is blocked by a firewall, which filters and limits traffic between Chinese and international servers.
The people of Hong Kong, until then, enjoyed freedoms unavailable on the mainland thanks to a “one country, two systems” structure.
Returned by the UK to control of China in 1997, Hong Kong is an island of deregulated capitalism, with multi-party politics, free speech and an autonomous judiciary – which is expected to be valid until at least 2047.
For Fergus Ryan, analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), the censorship of the site represents “a clear step towards the end of a relatively free and open Internet in Hong Kong”.
“The closure of the site represents another brick in the great firewall that Beijing is gradually building around Hong Kong,” he said.
Lokman Tsui, an assistant professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong specializing in online privacy and communications, said that in the long run, this type of restriction will push activism “to go further.”
“People who already use Signal,” he said, referring to an instant messaging app.
Also on Thursday (14), in another friction between Beijing and the semi-autonomous territory, Hong Kong police arrested 11 people accused of aiding a group of 12 activists who were trying to escape to Taiwan last year. . The group was intercepted at sea, 70 km from the former British colony, on August 23.
Among the detainees are eight men and three women, aged 18 to 72, all held for questioning, according to a police statement.
At the end of December, a Chinese court sentenced ten of the activists who had tried to flee for crossing the border illegally, with sentences ranging from seven months to three years in prison.
Daniel Wong, a lawyer who tried to help escape, was among those arrested Thursday, according to a post on his Facebook page, which said the police arrived at his apartment at 6 a.m. (local time). .
Taiwan, an island that China considers a rebellious province, has become a popular destination for pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong since the imposition of the National Security Law. They accuse the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party of restricting the freedoms of the territory – which Beijing rejects.
Wong is leading an initiative to open at least ten businesses in Taiwan, ranging from a laundry service to a restaurant, to give protesters a work permit to live on the autonomous island.