Internet service provider Hong Kong Broadband Network (HKBN) confirmed Thursday that it blocked access to a pro-democracy news website called HKChronicles under orders from the city’s Beijing-controlled government.
The takedown was the first of its kind since China forced a draconian “national security law” on the island in a heavy-handed effort to crush the democracy movement.
“We have disabled the access to the website in compliance with the requirement issued under the National Security Law,” a spokesman for HKBN told the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) Thursday.
The spokesman said the takedown occurred Wednesday afternoon, but HKFP noted users began reporting problems with accessing HKChronicles a week ago.
“After discussing and investigating with our supporters, we found that some ISPs of Hong Kong [have] deliberately dropped any connection to our servers … resulting in an inability to access our content. Some of the websites that share the same IP address [were] also affected,” said a statement from HKChronicles transcribed by HKFP.
Several other Hong Kong telecom firms appear to have blocked HKChronicles as well, including Smartone and China Mobile Hong Kong, but only Hong Kong Broadband Network was willing to issue a brief statement to the HKFP.
The website for HKChronicles still exists and can be reached by users outside of Hong Kong. Most of the posts are in Chinese, but an English-language post from October 2019 pinned at the top of the site lays out its mission statement:
We originally envisioned the creation of a historical record through the Internet for future HongKongers. However, due to the long-lasting protests and numerous passionates who did this job way better than us, we shifted our focus to develop a convenient, efficient and easy-to-use platform to provide information for protesters and our democracy supporters. With the generous help of local Telegram Channels “Dad Finds Boy” and “Son Finds Parents”, we currently covers details to locate police officers [sic], who committed serious crime and brutality towards citizens of Hong Kong, and the supporters of such tyranny.
During late 2019, social movements erupted in numerous countries like Indonesia, Catalonia and Chile. However, we have yet to find a widespread adoption of Internet platforms and technology inside these social movements. Today, we would like to send invitations to our international friends. If you wish to contribute to your country through a new way, please don’t hesitate to join us.
In Hong Kong Chronicles, we have a self-taught programmer who could help you to establish your own platform, and individuals who was experienced in operation security to provide technical suggestions to prevent you from being identified by local authorities. We could also provide suggestions and assistance in utilisation of Internet for social movements, as we have plenty examples in our country.
HKFP described HKChronicles as a “pro-democracy doxing platform, revealing the personal information of police officers and pro-Beijing supporters.” One of the articles in the 2019 national security law specifically empowers the police to shut down websites that publish information deemed threatening to Hong Kong’s security, a mandate that can presumably be stretched to include publishing personal information about police officers.
The Hindustan Times noted that HKChronicles also posts lists of businesses that support the democracy movement, and ran numerous stories about the massive protests in 2019, “with a particular focus on allegations of excessive police violence.”
“After officers began removing identifying badges during clashes with protesters, the website started collecting their personal details — a tactic known as doxxing, which is illegal in Hong Kong and many other jurisdictions,” the Hindustan Times reported.
Hong Kong police arrested over 50 pro-democracy advocates last week in a massive crackdown condemned around the world. More arrests were still being made Thursday, including eleven people suspected of helping a dozen pro-democracy activists flee Hong Kong for China last year.