A UK-based rights group yesterday pledged not to remain silent after the Hong Kong government demanded it shutter its Web site and accused it of endangering China’s national security.
While China heavily restricts the Internet on the mainland, Hong Kong does not generally censor the Web, allowing residents to access sites and content that might be critical of Beijing. However, yesterday’s announcement makes Hong Kong Watch the first overseas non-governmental organization (NGO) to confirm it is in the crosshairs of a National Security Law that Beijing imposed on June 30, 2020, to snuff out dissent in the territory.
“By threatening a UK-based NGO with financial penalties and jail for merely reporting on the human rights situation in Hong Kong, this letter exemplifies why Hong Kong’s National Security Law is so dangerous,” Hong Kong Watch chief executive Benedict Rogers said.
“We will not be silenced by an authoritarian security apparatus which, through a mixture of senseless brutality and ineptitude, has triggered rapid mass migration out of the city and shut down civil society,” said Rogers, who was barred from visiting Hong Kong in 2017.
The Hong Kong Security Bureau accused the group of “colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security,” according to an e-mail sent on Thursday last week, which Hong Kong Watch posted in full on its Web site yesterday.
The offense, one of the four major crimes under the security law, can carry maximum penalties of up to life imprisonment.
“Criminal investigation reveals that ‘Hong Kong Watch’ has been engaging in ... lobbying foreign countries to impose sanctions or blockade” against China and Hong Kong, the e-mail said.
Hong Kong Police Commissioner Raymond Siu Chak-yee (蕭澤頤) also sent a notice the same day demanding that the group remove all publications from its Web site.
“Should you fail to do so, further action will be instituted ... without further notice,” the e-mail said.
The Hong Kong Police force yesterday said that it does not comment on specific cases, but added that the public can continue to use the Internet “lawfully.”
The UK — Hong Kong’s former colonial ruler — condemned what it called the “unjustifiable action.”
“The Chinese Government and Hong Kong authorities must respect the universal right to freedom of speech, and uphold that right in Hong Kong in accordance with international commitments, including the [Sino-British] Joint Declaration,” British Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs Liz Truss said in a statement.
“Attempting to silence voices globally that speak up for freedom and democracy is unacceptable and will never succeed,” the statement said.
Founded in 2017, Hong Kong Watch monitors “threats to Hong Kong’s basic freedoms, the rule of law and autonomy.”
The NGO is supported by a number of British politicians, including former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten.
Since last month, the Web site has not been accessible in the Chinese territory without the use of a virtual private network.
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