Hong Kong police are using a vaguely worded law for computer crime to arrest pro-democracy protesters who use social media to organize.
Police claim the individuals are using the Internet to encourage others to block traffic and take part in an unlawful assembly.
The law is in Hong Kong’s “Crimes Ordinance Section 161,” which broadly makes it illegal to use a computer “with intent to commit an offense,” or to dishonestly deceive, gain from, or cause loss to another person. Violators face up to five years in prison.
Police in Hong Kong have already used the vague law several times to arrest organizers of the protests.
According to Quartz, two days before the Occupy Central protests started police arrested Joshua Wong, co-founder of the Scholarism student group, for calling online for protesters to break through barricades in front of the government headquarters. A 15-year-old boy was also arrested in June for posting a guide online about storming the Legislative Council building.
More recently, on Oct. 18, Hong Kong police arrested a 23-year-old man for posting a message on Hong Kong’s Golden Forum, which is commonly used by pro-democracy protesters, for encouraging people to join protests from Oct. 17 to 19.
“Late on the evening of October 18, a violent confrontation between the police and protesters took place in Mongkok, leaving more than a dozen people injured. Police arrested the netizen in his apartment early the next morning,” states a post from Chinese civic advocate group Keyboard Warrior.
Hong Kong police stated in a press release, “some people have tried to incite others, through the internet, to re-occupy Mong Kok and to paralyse the traffic in West Kowloon.”
Police said they arrested the unnamed individual on charges of “access to computer with criminal or dishonest intent” and “unlawful assembly.” They called it “a very serious criminal offense.”
“Our initial enquiries revealed that the arrested person incited others on an online forum to join the unlawful assembly in Mong Kok, to charge at Police and to paralyse the railways,” they state.
Keyboard Warrior, an organization that advocates for Internet openness, has decried the police for what it’s calling abuse of Hong Kong’s computer crimes law to stifle the protests.
It states that more than a dozen netizens in Hong Kong have been arrested under the law since the start of the pro-democracy protests.
It quotes Hong Kong Legislative Council member Charles Mok as saying the computer crime law “is like a universal plug that can be attached to all kinds of crimes if the act involves the use of computers, mobile phones or even digital cameras.”