HONG KONG (REUTERS) - The website of UK-based human rights group Hong Kong Watch could not be accessed through some networks in Hong Kong, 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 that service providers "delete" information or "provide assistance" on national security cases.
The sweeping security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong in 2020 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 (Feb 14).
Hong Kong police said in a statement it would not comment on a specific case, but that it had the right to "require service providers to take a disabling action on electronic messages" under implementation rules for article 43 of the national security law.
The police did not provide details to Reuters on what content would be deemed a potential threat to national security.
Several attempts by Reuters journalists in Hong Kong to access the www.hongkongwatch.org website were unsuccessful, without the use of a virtual private network.
"The latest example shows that at any time, the Hong Kong authorities can decide to block a website. It also shows... how intransparent the process of blocking and censorship is," Lokman Tsui, a digital rights expert and former journalism professor, said.
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 https: 8964museum.com commemorating pro-democracy protesters killed in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989 became inaccessible in Hong Kong. An attempt by Reuters in Hong Kong to access that site on Tuesday was unsuccessful.
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.