Hong Kong police escalate crackdown, claim new powers for internet censorship

Domestic News

From books to online posts, the Hong Kong government is cracking down on any information perceived to threaten national security after a new law was imposed by Beijing. Police are claiming powers to decrypt and censor online messages, and technology companies, including Facebook and Twitter, are refusing to comply.

a derek zheng illustration for supchina about the crackdown in hong kong following beijing's imposition of a national security law
SupChina illustration by Derek Zheng

Last week, we wrote, “Freedom of expression is dead in Hong Kong,” after the government effectively outlawed a popular protest slogan, and police began arresting citizens for violations of the new national security law imposed by Beijing.

Silent protesters holding blank posters held a demonstration at a mall over the weekend, the Hong Kong Free Press reports. Police came in, holding a sign warning that they may be in violation of the new national security law, and then arrested eight protesters “on suspicion of taking part in an unauthorized assembly and obstructing police officers.”

  • Meanwhile, police took DNA samples from the first 10 people arrested last week on national security charges, per HKFP, and denied bail to one person who was formally charged with “terrorism” for riding a motorbike into police officers.
  • Schools in Hong Kong have been “ordered…to review and remove any books that might breach” the new national security law, per AFP, and books by prominent democracy activists have already started disappearing from the city’s libraries.

Police claim new powers for internet censorship

The renewed crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong accompanying the national security law may be set to escalate rapidly, as the government has clarified that Article 43 of the law gives the police sweeping new powers, per the Hong Kong Free Press:

Hong Kong police will be authorized to conduct searches at private properties without a warrant, restrict suspects’ movements, freeze their assets, intercept communications and require internet service providers to remove information…

Meanwhile, the commissioner of police is to be given powers to control the dissemination of information online, when they have “reasonable grounds” to suspect such information may lead to national security crimes. Such enforcement may require a relevant publisher, platform service provider, hosting service provider or network service providers to remove information that the authorities deem a threat to national security. They may also restrict or stop anyone from accessing to such platforms.

Police may require service providers to provide relevant identification records or decryption assistance. Any service provider who fails to comply with the requests is liable upon conviction to a fine of HK$100,000 and six months behind bars.

International technology companies say they are refusing to comply with data sharing and censorship requests by Hong Kong police. Paul Mozur reports for the New York Times:

  • Facebook said on Monday that it would temporarily stop processing Hong Kong government requests for user data as the company reviews a sweeping national security law… The suspension of data reviews also applies to the messaging app WhatsApp, the company said.”
  • Twitter said it paused all data and information requests from the Hong Kong authorities immediately after the law went into effect last week.”
  • Telegram, a messaging app popular with Hong Kong’s protesters, said on Sunday that it would suspend the provision of user data until a consensus was reached on the new law.”

The already fully encrypted communications app, Signal, is now at “the top of app store download lists” in Hong Kong, the NYT adds.

Mozur comments on Twitter that this “feels like a first salvo in a dispute that could eventually lead to something like a Great Firewall in HK.”

More news about Hong Kong:

“China refused to rule out blocking Hong Kong citizens from leaving to take up Boris Johnson’s offer of a new home in the U.K.,” Bloomberg reports. Liú Xiǎomíng 刘晓明, the Chinese ambassador to the U.K., said that China will “wait and see” how Britain implements its promise to provide a path to citizenship for up to 3 million Hongkongers.

The Office for Safeguarding National Security, a newly established outpost of the central P.R.C. government in Hong Kong, will be led by Zhèng Yànxióng 郑雁雄, a Guangdong-born, Cantonese-speaking hardliner, the South China Morning Post reports.

In addition, Canada suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, leading to a rebuke from China, per Reuters.