Hong Kong national security law (NSL)
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People walk past a large banner promoting the national security law in Tsim Sha Tsui. Photo: Sun Yeung

Hong Kong national security law: leading internet service provider admits blocking protest website at authorities’ request

  • Hong Kong Broadband Network says it complied with authorities’ request to prevent customers from accessing HKChronicles
  • The website was a main destination for local people seeking information about the anti-government movement
A leading telecoms company has become the first internet service provider to admit blocking one of the most popular websites devoted to the anti-government movement in Hong Kong because it may violate the national security law.

Hong Kong Broadband Network (HKBN) revealed on Thursday it had complied with an official request to disable customers’ access to HKChronicles, which contained information, articles, photos and videos related to the social unrest that erupted in 2019, along with personal details of officers and pro-Beijing figures.

“We have disabled the access to the website in compliance with the requirement issued under the national security law,” the city’s second-largest internet service provider (ISP) said.

The HKChronicles website has become inaccessible through major internet service providers in Hong Kong. Photo: Nathan Tsui
The Post quoted sources on Saturday as saying authorities had invoked the national security law for the first time in demanding the city’s ISPs halt access to the website citing Article 43 and its implementation rules. Section four empowers authorities to require a person who publishes a message or information that is likely to endanger national security, or the relevant service provider, to delete the information.
The commissioner of police can authorise officers to take the step after receiving approval from the secretary for security. They both sit on the Committee for Safeguarding National Security, which is chaired by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

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Users reported difficulties reaching HKChronicles beginning on January 6, according to its editor Naomi Chan. After switching its overseas server, the site remained accessible until at least Saturday,

when HKBN told the Post it had not blocked users. But attempts to reach the site early this week were unsuccessful. Neither could the site be reached using the city’s biggest ISP provider, PCCW, which declined to comment on the matter. According to Chan, customers of SmarTone and China Mobile were also blocked. The first could not be reached for comment, while the second did not respond to inquiries as of time of publication.

When contacted last week, the Security Bureau and police both refused to comment on individual cases, pointing only to the powers granted them under Article 43.

Service providers that fail to comply with the request are subject to a maximum penalty of a HK$100,000 (US$12,900) fine and six months’ imprisonment.

The HKChronicles website has collected a trove of information in both English and Cantonese covering the social unrest that erupted in June 2019 over a now-withdrawn extradition bill and which later morphed into the wider anti-government movement.

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Beijing responded by imposing the security law on June 30 outlawing acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, but the move has been labelled by critics at home and abroad as an attempt to silence views critical of the government and Beijing.

The website’s database also included first-hand accounts of alleged police brutality against demonstrators, as well as information on “yellow ribbon”, or protester-friendly businesses, and “blue ribbon” ones that support police.

Lento Yip Yuk-fai, chairman of the Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association, said that if police requested a website be blocked on national security grounds they should publicly explain the grounds to prevent unfounded speculation about their motives.

“The issue concerns the free flow of information,” he said “The police should come forward to explain clearly about their legal reasoning to minimise the move’s impact on the city’s free flow of information, as well as to prevent unfounded speculation from circulating.”

Given telecoms companies were usually cooperative with police requests, authorities should also explain avenues for appeal, Yip said.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: HKBN admits it blocked protest movement website