https://www.accessnow.org:443/keeping-internet-open-in-hong-kong/

#KeepItOn: Keeping the internet open and secure in Hong Kong

Injunction blocking online communications threatens fundamental human rights

Honorable Chief Executive Carrie Lam;
Honorable Members of the Executive Council of Hong Kong, 

We write to express grave concern at the injunction requested by the Hong Kong Executive to ban messages on messaging and information-sharing platforms such as the messaging application Telegram and Hong Kong forum site LIKHG under the banner of preventing the incitement of violence. This injunction, which was granted on a temporary basis by the Hong Kong High Court, enables overly broad restrictions on the freedom of expression of Hong Kong residents and interferes with access to popular forums for seeking, imparting, and receiving information, in violation of fundamental rights. 

According to the United Nations, human rights apply online as offline. The court order, granted in response to an application filed by the secretary for justice, prohibits “willfully disseminating, circulating, publishing or republishing” material online that “promotes, encourages or incites the use or threat of violence.” This vague and overbroad language offends established principles of international law protecting the freedoms of opinion and expression. The order further bans such acts that “promote, encourage or incite” harms including “bodily injury to any person unlawfully” or “damage to any property unlawfully,” going far beyond the accepted basis for restrictions on expression. Such imprecise language leaves room for authorities to exercise wide discretion in law enforcement, with the potential to unlawfully chill speech and deter demonstrators.  

Our organizations monitor and fight the spread of internet shutdowns, advocating for open and secure access to the internet for all. We warned earlier that attempts to decrease the openness of the internet only mask human rights violations and create barriers to long-term stability and peaceful dialogue. 

We appreciate that your administration chose to respond to our letter on 25 September 2019; we, however, were further alarmed by the position taken there — and now before the Hong Kong High Court — in aggressively choosing to emphasize that your government would not rule out restricting online communications and internet connectivity in Hong Kong. In a response to our letter, the Chief Executive emphasized that, “While we respect all citizens’ right to express their opinion freely, it is imperative that everyone in Hong Kong should act in accordance with the law.” Yet, an order so vague and broad as this injunction is impossible to comply with and, rather than further the rule of law, confuses stakeholders and destabilizes society during a sensitive period, in addition to causing grave, irrevocable harm to Hong Kong’s reputation as a global media and internet hub. 

This injunction threatens to undermine fundamental human rights at a time when it is crucial for government authorities to respect and protect those rights. We fear that this creeping censorship marks another step toward a full internet shutdown in Hong Kong and will undermine the open and secure internet in Hong Kong and elsewhere. 

Experts from the United Nations, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Organization of American States (OAS), and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) have declared that internet “kill switches” can never be justified under international human rights law, even in times of conflict. Other courts of law, including the European Court of Human Rights, have ruled that overbroad restrictions or blocking orders that inhibit access to entire web services or domains cannot be held to be proportionate restrictions to internationally protected fundamental rights under human rights law.

The undersigned organizations call on the Hong Kong Executive and administration to cease this effort to unlawfully disrupt access to websites, apps, and services — or even the internet as a whole — in Hong Kong. 

We respectfully request that you use the important positions of your good offices to:

  • not utilize this temporary injunction, and withdraw this broad and vague injunction request;
  • pledge not to shut down access to the internet or further block websites and disrupt services; and
  • cease pressure on app stores to remove applications.

Sincerely,

Access Now
Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE)
Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
Digital Rights Watch
Freedom House
Internet Policy Observatory Pakistan
Internet Protection Society
Jamii Forums, Tanzania
Media Rights Agenda
Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI)
Paradigm Initiative
PEN America
RosKomSvoboda
Rudi International, DRC
Station for Open Cultures
WITNESS
Internet Policy Observatory Pakistan

The original letter warning that internet shutdowns would further hurt Hong Kong was signed by:

Access Now
AfroLeadership
Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI)
Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE)Digital Rights Watch
GreatFire
Incarner l’Espoir
Internet Freedom Foundation
Internet Sans Frontieres
Media Foundation for West Africa
Media Rights Agenda
Paradigm Initiative
RedesAyuda
Sassoufit Collective
SMEX
The Tor Project
The Bachchao Project
Unwanted Witness Uganda
Viet Tan
World Wide Web Foundation
Xnet-x.net
Usuarios Digitales
Jamii Forums, Tanzania
Media Rights Agenda
Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE)
Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI)
RosKomSvoboda
Station for Open Cultures
Internet Protection Society
Digital Rights Watch
Right 2 Know Campaign
AfroLeadership
Digital Rights Foundation
Digital Rights Foundation
Media Matters for Democracy
Association for Progressive Communications
Open Net Korea
Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet)
Freedom House

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