(Bloomberg) — A Hong Kong internet provider said it’s blocked access to a website in order to comply with the city’s new national security law, in a case that’s fueling concerns about the future of free speech in the former British colony as China tightens control.
In a statement on Thursday, Hong Kong Broadband Network Ltd., part of HKBN Group, said it had prevented users from accessing HKChronicles.com, an anti-government website that has supported protesters and featured the personal information of local police officers and photos the website says are of pro-China individuals that have harassed protesters.
The blocking was done in order to comply with sweeping national security legislation that China drafted and imposed on the Asian financial hub in June last year, a move that was strongly criticized by the U.S. and U.K. and led numerous western democracies to suspend extradition treaties with Hong Kong.
“We have disabled the access to the website in compliance with the requirement issued under the National Security Law,” the company said.
Police said in a statement on Friday they would not comment on specific cases, but that the security law allowed them to force service providers to take “disabling action” when content “is likely to constitute an offense endangering national security or is likely to cause the occurrence of an offense endangering national security.”
The editor of the website, Naomi Chan, had earlier accused multiple local internet service providers — PCCW Ltd., SmarTone Telecommunications Holdings Ltd., HKBN, and China Mobile Hong Kong, a subsidiary of China Mobile Ltd. — of cooperating with government agencies to block access to its content, saying they were restricting “citizens’ rights and freedom to access information.”
Hong Kong was guaranteed continued freedoms distinct from mainland China when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, but foreign governments, local activists and human rights groups have all criticized the new national security legislation as a move to quash dissent after historic protests in 2019.
The security law’s Article 43 allows police to request “a person who published information or the relevant service provider to delete the information or provide assistance.”
After Beijing signaled its plans to enact the security law, Hong Kong saw a spike in downloads of virtual private network, or VPN, software designed to mask internet usage.
HKChronicles.com features various pro-democracy articles, documents alleging excessive police force and highlights personal information like mobile phone numbers for government officials and police officers.
(Updates with police comment in fifth paragraph.)
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