Hong Kong Democracy Website Experiences Temporary Blockage From Hong Kong ISPs

Website now returning '404 not found' errors
January 9, 2021 Updated: January 10, 2021

A website “dedicated to exposing people supporting tyranny and dictatorship in Hong Kong” started receiving reports overnight on Jan. 6 that Hong Kong users were unable to access the site.

Hong Kong Chronicles is a primarily Cantonese site that has been collating a database of information related to the Hong Kong protests, such as incidents of police brutality and the profiles of those allegedly complicit.

In an announcement made on Jan. 7, the site’s chief editor and operator Naomi Chan clarified that the site was not blocking users and had no plan of doing so.

The site’s team found that some Hong Kong Internet service providers (ISPs) had been dropping connections to the site’s server, effectively blocking users’ access to the site’s content. Chan listed Smartone, CMHK, HKBN, PCCW as some of the ISPs that were found to have participated in the blockage.

Chan wrote that after the investigation, the team believed that Hong Kong ISPs intentionally blocked Hong Kong users from accessing the website at the request of Beijing and the Hong Kong government. She then denounced the ISPs that allegedly cooperated with the government to violate people’s right to freedom of information.

Naomi Chan also warned Hongkongers to prepare for further Internet censorship, which she described as facing “the darkness before dawn.”

Hongkongers have grown more vigilant about their Internet activities following Beijing’s enactment of a sweeping national security law that allows police to order Internet service providers to block access to electronic information if the information is deemed to endanger “national security.”

According to the implementation rules of Article 43 of the National Security Law of Hong Kong, if police have “reasonable grounds” to suspect that an electronic message may endanger national security, the police may remove access to the message or its platform.

It continues, “If a service provider fails to comply with the requirement to remove messages endangering national security, or to restrict or cease access to messages or platforms, or the request to provide assistance, the service provider is liable on conviction to a fine of $100,000 and to imprisonment for six months.”

The site is now back up but some links are generating “404 not found” errors. It is not clear yet how much information on the website is inaccessible.

Wong Ho Wa, a Hong Kong data scientist and pro-democracy activist, recalled that online censorship was a big concern for Hongkongers the end of June as they protested the implementation of China’s national security law in the former British colony.

The situation has since deteriorated so fast that the “mainland way” is now simply being carried out in Hong Kong, Wong said.

He said blocking Hong Kong Chronicles is “paving the road” for a larger-scale information blockade. Hong Kong might be “completely isolated” as a result and won’t be able to send information out to the international society.

Chow Hang-tung, a barrister and vice chairwoman of the Hong Kong Alliance that champions democratic causes, described the blocking of Hong Kong Chronicles as infringing on citizens’ rights to information and further sabotaging freedom of the press.

Emma Yu contributed to this report.