Anti-government website HKChronicles, which was ordered blocked by Hong Kong authorities on national security grounds, says it has acquired a new domain name.
The move follows confirmation Thursday by an internet service provider that authorities had ordered the site to be blocked, the first time such action has been taken on national security grounds. HKChronicles announced the new domain via its Telegram channel on Thursday evening.
Fears that authorities had ordered the city’s telecom companies to block access to HKChronicles surfaced on Wednesday last week when users reported problems accessing the site.
The block, confirmed by Hong Kong Broadband Network to HKFP on Thursday, marked the first time police have used their powers under the Beijing-imposed security law to prevent access to online content.
“We have disabled the access to the website in compliance with the requirement issued under the National Security Law,” a company spokesperson said in a statement.
Other internet service providers who have reportedly blocked the site include China Mobile, Smartone and PCCW’s HKT. The latter declined to answer HKFP inquiries while the other two have not responded.
HKChronicles collected information during the months-long anti-extradition protests in 2019 and operated as a pro-democracy doxxing platform, revealing personal information of police officers and pro-Beijing supporters. It highlighted cases of alleged police brutality.
The force has yet to confirm the ban and its reasons for blocking the site.
Meanwhile, a doxxing website targeting pro-democracy protesters, as well as journalists, remains accessible in Hong Kong.
Security law fears
The site operator who goes by the name Naomi Chan said she resisted suggestions from members of the public that she should shut down the site after making its data available for download, citing fears of further implications under the security law for those in possession of such information.
“There are a couple of people who want us to pack up the website and let others download and spread it,” she wrote on the site’s Telegram channel on Thursday.
“Technically it can be done quite easily, but Naomi Chan is worried that, since our content is considered by the Hong Kong government as ‘violating the national security law’, if we do pack the website up and release it, there will be a lot of people forwarding it and sharing the link… and provoking national security [issues] for no reason,” her statement read.
Chan said she did not want to “implicate” her fellow activists.
‘Not an isolated case’
The ban has raised concerns about freedom of online information in the city after the passing of the wide-ranging security law last June 30.
Wong Ho-wa, a data scientist and Election Committee representative for the IT industry, said the ban “already damages” freedom of information and may signal the start of arbitrary internet censorship by Hong Kong authorities.
“Will this be an isolated case? I don’t think so. The trend may continue, other websites may also be blocked,” Wong told HKFP, adding that the blocking of certain servers may also block access to other websites with no political agenda.
“It’s a direct impact on freedom of access to information,” he continued, referring to the force’s order to block online content with no announcement or explanation.
Wong also questioned whether the information on HKChronicles posed any real danger. “[It’s] contents are not all that sensitive… Is this really a threat to national security? I really wonder.”
He said there were already ways to block sensitive online information through injunctions granted by the courts.
Article 43 of the security law gives police the power to order an individual or service provider to delete or assist in the removal of information published online in the interests of protecting national security.
In response to HKFP’s queries, a police spokesperson declined to comment on individual cases but referred to authorities’ powers under Article 43 and 3 of the security law: “Police may require service provider(s) to take a disabling action on electronic message(s) on an electronic platform the publication of which is likely to constitute an offence endangering national security or is likely to cause the occurrence of an offence endangering national security.”
“All relevant actions will be taken strictly in accordance with the law… Lawful use of the Internet by Hong Kong residents can continue and would not be affected,” the statement added.
HKFP has reached out to Naomi Chan for comment.