Lawyers representing independence advocate Andy Chan have reportedly been subject to cyber attacks originating in mainland China, Chan said on Thursday.

One barrister’s instant messaging account was accessed by an unknown third party and three barristers received phishing emails, according to a letter sent by law firm Daly & Associates to the Hong Kong Bar Association.

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Andy Chan. Photo: Pool/SCMP.

Daly & Associates represent Chan, who is appealing the Hong Kong government’s ban on his pro-independence group, the Hong Kong National Party (HKNP). In September, HKNP became the first group to be banned using the Societies Ordinance since the 1997 Handover.

“My legal team was earlier subjected to cyber-attacks, so we wrote to the Bar Association. The Bar Association is currently speaking to my legal team to understand what happened,” Chan told reporters on Thursday.

In its letter to the Bar Association dated November 5, Daly & Associates said that it became the target of cyber-attacks originating from the mainland after taking up Chan’s case.

“We write to draw your attention and raise a complaint that our privileged and confidential communication with Counsel appeared to have been subject to attempts of unauthorised access and cyber attack by an unknown third party, apparently originating from mainland China,” the letter stated.

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The Bar Association. Photo: HKFP/Kris Cheng.

The law firm said that, in the case of unauthorised access to a barrister’s messaging account, they traced the internet protocol (IP) address of cyber-attack to mainland China.

The firm stopped using the messaging app to contact the barrister after discovering the intrusion, but it said it was worried that previous communication on the channel had been leaked.

Three barristers also received emails purportedly from the secretary of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club – where Chan had previously given a speech – asking the recipient to click on a hyperlink.

Daly & Associates asked the Bar Council to issue a public statement condemning the infringement of the right to confidential legal advice, and called upon the authorities to investigate.

“We do not consider seeking assistance from the Police in relation to these cyber attacks feasible,” the firm added, saying that there may be a conflict of interest or legal privilege issue since the police are involved in Chan’s appeal.

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Andy Chan. Photo: Pool/SCMP.

Bar Association Chairman Philip Dykes confirmed that the Bar Association is aware of the situation and has asked Daly & Associates to provide more information.

Dykes told HKFP that the Association found the claims to be “sufficiently credible” to warrant a follow-up.

“The interception of communication in any event is serious if it’s not authorized. It’s doubly serious if it concerns transmission of legal advice, which is absolutely privileged,” he said.

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.