Hong Kong tech giants 'censor' UK rights website amid firewall fears

Rights group Hong Kong Watch says such censorship may only be the start of much wider internet controls.
By Jojo Man
2022.02.14
Hong Kong tech giants 'censor' UK rights website amid firewall fears Long lines form outside Hong Kong's Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre, with people waiting at least three hours before being able to drop off supplies for inmates, after correctional authorities announced the suspension of prison visits amid a wave of COVID-19 cases, Feb. 14, 2022.
RFA

Internet service providers in Hong Kong are blocking the website of a U.K.-based rights group that has been highly critical of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s national security crackdown in the city.

The website of Hong Kong Watch can no longer be accessed via PCCW, CMHK, KHBN or Netvigator, the group said in a statement on its website on Monday, adding that the block was being achieved through "DNS tampering."

The website at hongkongwatch.org isn't the first to have been blocked by Hong Kong telecoms companies, with the websites of HKChronicles, the Transitional Justice Commission, and HK Charter 2021 all removed in recent months using a similar technique, it said.

Independent censorship commentator Nathan Hammond said that the removal of the site "matches patterns first seen in the delisting of http://hkchronicles.com."

"We can safely assume that this removal from DNS was requested by the Hong Kong Police," Hammond said via his Twitter account.

Hong Kong Watch CEO Benedict Rogers said he fears the takedown is linked to the national security law, which empowers the authorities to order blocks and removal of content deemed subversive, seditious or to "incite hatred" of the authorities.

“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.

"There are fears that China could begin introducing its Great Internet Firewall into the city."

A screenshot of the website of Hong Kong Watch, a U.K.-based rights group that has been highly critical of the Chinese Communist Party national security crackdown in the city, which has been blocked by Hong Kong telecoms companies. Credit: Hong Kong Watch/RFA
A screenshot of the website of Hong Kong Watch, a U.K.-based rights group that has been highly critical of the Chinese Communist Party national security crackdown in the city, which has been blocked by Hong Kong telecoms companies. Credit: Hong Kong Watch/RFA
Prison visits curtailed

Meanwhile, concerns were being raised for hundreds of political prisoners jailed or on remand for taking part in peaceful political activism or protest since the start of the 2019 protest movement.

The city's correctional service department recently announced it would suspend prison visits amid a wave of COVID-19 cases, leaving people unable to check on their loved ones behind bars face to face, nor to bring them daily necessities like shower gel, tissues, cigarettes and other items not available to prisoners.

Friends and relatives are now required to deliver supplies once each by the end of the month, and must show a vaccination certificate before they can drop them at jails and detention centers.

Long lines formed outside the Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre with people waiting at least three hours on Monday before being able to drop off supplies for inmates.

A visitor who gave only the nickname Kirby said she was devastated at the news that she can no longer visit her boyfriend.

"They say we can't visit, so we can't visit," she said. "There is now total isolation for those inside from the rest of the world."

"Every day inside seems like a year ... I'm very worried about him and very unhappy about this," she said through tears.

"He would always take time to be with me if there was something wrong, no matter how busy I was," she said. "I hope he knows that I will always be with him, and that we are still connected despite these walls and glass between us. We won't be beaten or separated by them."

'Quislings'

A relative who gave the nickname Sister Tyrannosaur said she was bringing snacks, masks, stationery and novels to her brother, who has been held on remand for nearly a month, and felt powerless when she was suddenly informed that she could no longer visit him daily.

"I feel empty ... I don't know what to do," she said. "Normally, I would come here every morning and wait one or two hours, for a 15-minute meeting."

"Those 15 minutes would always go by so fast, and I might have thought of lots of things to say, but when I got there, I didn't want to say them, just take a good look at him and ask him if he was okay," she said.

"There was already a sense of distance through the glass [barrier], but now I have to wait three weeks or maybe longer than that," she said. "I can only write him letters."

Another visitor, who gave only the nickname C Man, said she was also bringing snacks and books for a friend who has been on remand for six weeks.

"I know I'll be waiting in line for at least two-and-a-half hours, and my boyfriend is waiting to have lunch with me," she said. "But it's the least we outside the walls can do to ... bring them a little cheer."

Chinese official and former Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying offered a special Valentine's Day put-down for the city's last colonial governor, Chris Patten, now Lord Patten of Barnes, calling him "too romantic, or big-headed" in his view of Hong Kong.

Leung's comments came after Patten told the House of Lords that Hong Kong's chief executives were "quislings," because they or their close family members had foreign passports.

Patten was a frequent target of Chinese officials' ire during his governorship, which shoehorned in a program of unrecedented democratic reforms ahead of the 1997 handover to Chinese rule, with "whore," and "guilty for a thousand years" among the choicer epithets used to describe him.

China reversed Patten's electoral changes, which had resulted in the first Legislative Council (LegCo) fully returned by direct elections, as soon as it took back control of Hong Kong after the handover.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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