Police block pro-democracy website on national security grounds: reports

Published (HKT): 2021.01.10 05:44

Hong Kong police have blocked a website chronicling the local pro-democracy movement, applying the city’s national security law for the first time to impose such a ban, reports say.

The internet site HKChronicles was dedicated to documenting anti-government protests in 2019, and also listed profiles of pro-Beijing figures, restaurants and shops. Its suspension marked the first time police had invoked national security for shutting down a website, local newspapers Ming Pao and the South China Morning Post cited police sources as saying.

Police said in response to an Apple Daily inquiry that according to Article 43 of the national security law, officers could request internet service providers to ban electronic messages that endangered national security. The force would not comment on individual cases, it added.

Naomi Chan, chief editor of HKChronicles, on Thursday said they had received numerous reports from Hong Kong users that they were unable to access the website. The number of online visitors from the city had dropped drastically, she said.

Chan believed several ISPs might have blocked their site at the request of the government.

“We found that some ISPs of Hong Kong had deliberately dropped any connection to our servers, so that the user could not receive replies from our servers, resulting in an inability to access our content,” she said.

Based on reports from users, the ISPs included SmarTone, China Mobile, HKBN and PCCW.

Apple Daily has sent inquiries to all four operators. Only HKBN denied blocking the website, while PCCW said it had “no comment.” The remaining two had yet to respond.

HKChronicles has switched to another IP address to circumvent the ban. As of Friday, Apple Daily was still able to view the website.

However, a dozen other websites that shared the same IP addresses HKChronicles used previously were inaccessible. They could be seen only with the use of certain virtual private networks.

Under general circumstances, users who had difficulty connecting to an IP address could be running up against a ban, but other routing issues were also possible, according to Ben Cheng, a director on the board of Internet Society Hong Kong.

It would require more technical information from ISPs to determine the actual reason, because symptoms for both causes were similar, he added.

Francis Fong, honorary president of the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation, said blocking IP addresses was not a foolproof method to ban websites. The target website might not get blocked, but other websites that used the same IP address could end up becoming inaccessible, he said.

Any site that used cybersecurity software, such as Cloudflare, could also change its IP address frequently to defend against hackers and other attacks, he said.

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