Access to website dedicated to Tiananmen victims appears restricted in Hong Kong

People lighting candles during a anniversary vigil of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in Hong Kong on June 4, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Access to an online museum dedicated to the victims of China's 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square appeared to be restricted in Hong Kong, with the website accusing the authorities of censorship.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, the organisers of annual June 4 vigils in the global financial hub, announced the opening of the museum last month. The website operated independently from the alliance, it said.

Hong Kong users have not been able to access the website from the city since Thursday (Sept 30) without using virtual private networks. Internet service provider PCCW declined comment.

Providers HKBN and 3HK did not respond to requests for comment.

"This is a disgraceful act to erase historical memory," the online museum said in a statement.

Hong Kong police said it could not comment on individual cases, but said national security legislation states that the "police may require service providers to take actions to prohibit electronic messages posted on electronic platforms that are likely to endanger national security".

While the Internet in mainland China is heavily censored and access to foreign social media platforms and news sites is blocked, Hong Kong residents have so far enjoyed greater freedoms under the "one country, two systems" framework agreed when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The first censorship case under the security law Beijing imposed on the city last year emerged in January when the authorities blocked access to protests-related website HKChronicles.

The June 4th Museum's physical location in Hong Kong closed in June over a licensing probe and has since been added to a list of assets and bank accounts frozen by the authorities as part of a national security investigation against the alliance.

The organisation said last week it would disband after the police accused it of being "an agent of foreign forces", raided the museum's premises and charged the group with inciting subversion under the national security law.

The alliance, which denies the allegations, was the latest of dozens of civil society bodies to fold over the past year.

Its leaders Albert Ho and Lee Cheuk-yan, like dozens of other pro-democracy activists and politicians, are in jail over large anti-government protests that roiled the city in 2019 and also face national security charges.

Hong Kong authorities have repeatedly denied curbing human rights and freedoms, saying law enforcement has been based on evidence and has nothing to do with the background, profession or political beliefs of those arrested.

Hong Kong traditionally holds the world's largest annual June 4 vigil, although the police banned the past two events over coronavirus concerns. Mainland China bans commemorations and heavily censors the topic.

China has never provided a full account of the 1989 crackdown. Officials gave a death toll of about 300 people days afterwards, but rights groups and witnesses say thousands may have been killed.

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