The website of NGO Hong Kong Watch appears to have been partially blocked in Hong Kong amid fears of rising internet censorship in the city.

The apparent blocking of the UK-based NGO’s website comes after a handful of pro-democracy and Taiwan-linked websites have become inaccessible. However, the Hong Kong Watch site was still accessible via VPN circumnavigation tools when tested by HKFP on Tuesday, and it remains available to some internet service providers.

hong kong watch
Photo: HKFP remix.

The CEO of Hong Kong Watch Benedict Rogers said in a statement that the city’s future as a financial hub depends on access to information. “If this is not just a technical malfunction, and Hongkongers 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.

“With the steady drip of website removals, there are fears that China could begin introducing its Great Internet Firewall into the city. With time this could have serious ramifications for the continued presence of western technology companies in the city.”

Last May, access to anti-government website HKChronicles was blocked. The site 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.

Websites for Transitional Justice Commission, and HK Charter 2021 also appear to have been previously blocked.

HKFP has reached out to PCCW, Smartone, HKBN, 3 Hong Kong and China Mobile for comment.

Photo: HKChronicles screenshot.

In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure.

The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

Responding to a request for comment, the Police Public Relations Branch (PPRB) told HKFP that “The Police will not comment on specific cases.”

However, the PPRB wrote that, pursuant to Article 43 of the national security law, “the 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.”

National security law
Photo: GovHK.

The PPRB also cited the national security law’s Article 3, which “stipulates that the executive authorities of the HKSAR shall effectively prevent and suppress any act or activity endangering national security.” This is “only applicable to 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.”

Social media pages for Hong Kong Watch remain accessible.

Doxxing site remains

Meanwhile, a doxxing website targeting pro-democracy protesters, as well as journalists, remains accessible in Hong Kong, seven months after HKFP alerted the authorities to its existence through media enquiries. Since 2019, the HK Leaks website has openly maintained an online database of personal data belonging to more than 2,000 Hong Kong democrats, protesters and journalists.

ID card numbers, headshots, home addresses and phone numbers are often included. Historically, the site has been hosted on Russian servers and promoted by groups linked to the Chinese Communist Party.

Clarification 15.02.2022: This article has been updated to clarify that the Hong Kong Watch website remains accessible to some internet service providers.

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Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.