Hong Kong police have demanded that an Israeli company remove a website it is hosting for self-exiled Hongkongers to share a democracy petition, prompting concern over the extraterritorial scope of the city’s national security law.
In a letter to the web hosting service provider Wix, the police said the 2021 Hong Kong Charter website contained “messages likely to constitute offenses endangering national security.” The letter, dated May 24, required Wix to disable the site within 72 hours.
Visitors to 2021hkcharter.com on Thursday were shown a notice from Wix that the domain was not connected to a website.
Later in the day, Wix said in a statement: “We have reviewed our initial screening and have realized that the website never should have been removed.” The company apologized and said that it had reinstated the site.
Access to 2021hkcharter.com was restored around the same time. Wix said that it would review its screening process to “make sure mistakes such as this do not repeat in the future.”
Self-exiled Hong Kong activist Nathan Law, one of the eight who launched the website in March, called the incident a “clear example of China’s long arm of influence under the new security law.”
He added: “It raises the possibility that other websites and online remarks critical of China will be the next targets of Beijing’s internet censorship.”
The 2021 Hong Kong Charter calls on Hongkongers living abroad to continue speaking out against China’s Communist Party and voicing support for Hong Kong’s democracy and freedom.
While the police have previously cited the national security law to block Hong Kong web users’ access to certain websites, this is the first reported instance of them telling a hosting company to disable a website worldwide.
The police warned in its letter to Wix that failure to comply with the order would be a criminal offense which could lead to a maximum penalty of a HK$100,000 (US$12,890) fine and six months’ imprisonment.
Organizations that “assist with the handling of a case shall keep confidential any information pertaining to the case,” except for the mere fact that the website had been taken down in accordance with the police’s order, the letter said.
The police said in response to media enquiries that they would not comment on individual cases, but added that actions taken by the force would be handled according to the actual situation and the law. Article 43 of the national security law affords the police the power to get service providers to delete information online.
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