Hong Kong’s Internet injunction “testing the waters” before jumping into harsher censorship

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Restrictions on Hong Kong’s internet use threaten the future of its web freedoms.

Photo: An unlawful march assembled in Sogo at Causeway Bay on 2 November. Police had not yet raised a black banner but were wearing gas masks as shoppers walked by. Source.

An injunction order granted by the High Court on 1 November has banned anyone from posting any content online that “promotes, encourages or incites the use of threat or violence”. While temporary, this legal move has left many questioning the future of censorship and freedom of speech in Hong Kong.

Several organisations penned an open letter to Chief Executive Carrie Lam and the members of the Executive Council to express their deep concern over the injunction. “Such imprecise language leaves room for authorities to exercise wide discretion in law enforcement,” this letter states, “with the potential to unlawfully chill speech and deter demonstrators.”

The government announced the implementation of the injunction order, confirming it would be effective up to and including the 15 November at 10:30AM. Less than a month ago, ExCo member Ip Kwok-him said the government may resort to curbing Internet freedoms in order to quell the protests and their subsequent violence, to which the Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association responded in a letter claiming any implemented censorship “wouldn’t be effective, [ultimately] putting Hong Kong’s Internet behind a big firewall.”

Mr Charles Mok, LegCo chairman of Information Technology (IT), concurs with these worries, also believing that this injunction is “just testing the waters”. This may be the start of a slippery slope that results in the government unrolling “draconian measures targeted at censoring the internet that will completely ruin Hong Kong’s international reputation and its business conditions, especially in the area of free flow of information.” 

As early as a month ago, the HKSAR government began to enforce restrictions in an attempt to put out the fires of Hong Kong’s crisis. An emergency law which prohibited masks or facial coverings at protests – even in attendance at lawful gatherings. Not long after that, an injunction order was granted to restrain the doxxing of police officers or their family. Certain terms were later clarified, after complaints its broad phrasing would make it easy for authorities to abuse.

A Harbour Times’ article published in October surmised that Internet censorship in Hong Kong would be “an unlikely scenario”. Less than a month after its publication, it appears that the unlikely is beginning to become a reality. “Censorship can never solve any problems,” Mr Mok concludes, “especially political problems. It will bring on more problems.”

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