Hong Kong rights group says website not accessible through some networks

Chinese and Hong Kong flags are pictured outside a mall in Hong Kong
FILE PHOTO: Chinese and Hong Kong flags are pictured outside a mall, ahead of the Chinese National Day, in Hong Kong, China. September 28, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

February 15, 2022

By James Pomfret and Donny Kwok

Hong Kong (Reuters) – The website of U.K.-based human rights group Hong Kong Watch could not be accessed through some networks in the Chinese-ruled city, stoking concerns of internet censorship in the global financial hub, the organisation said.

Hong Kong Watch chief executive Benedict Rogers said he was worried the issue could be part of a crackdown under the city’s national security law, which empowers the police to request service providers “delete” information or “provide assistance” on national security cases.

Beijing imposed the sweeping security law on Hong Kong in 2020 that punishes what authorities broadly define as subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorism with up to life in jail.

“If this is not just a technical malfunction, and Hong Kongers will no longer be able to access our website because of the national security law, then this is a serious blow to internet freedom,” Rogers said in a statement late on Monday.

The Hong Kong police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Several attempts by Reuters journalists in Hong Kong to access the website were unsuccessful, without the use of a virtual private network.

Internet service providers PCCW, HKBN and China Mobile (HK)did not respond to requests for comment. Hong Kong Watch said in a statement its website could not be accessed on those three networks, among others.

Article 9 of the national security law states that the Hong Kong government shall take necessary measures to strengthen regulation of the internet “over matters concerning national security”. It also states that freedom of speech “shall be protected in accordance with the law.”

Last year, a website commemorating the killings of protesters in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 also became inaccessible in Hong Kong. An attempt by Reuters in Hong Kong to access that site on Tuesday was unsuccessful.

Hong Kong’s police said in a comment to Reuters at the time that they wouldn’t comment on individual cases, but said they could require service providers to take “prohibiting actions” against electronic messages posted on electronic platforms that might endanger national security, citing article 43 of the law.

The police didn’t specify at the time what content they deemed potentially illegal.

While the internet in mainland China is heavily censored and access to foreign social media platforms and news sites is blocked, Hong Kong residents were promised greater freedoms under the “one country, two systems” framework agreed when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

(Reporting By James Pomfret, Donny Kwok and Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Sam Holmes)

View original article here Source