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Hong Kong demands UK rights group scrub website

The national security law is one of many seismic legal and political changes seen in Hong Kong in recent years

Hong Kong demands UK rights group scrub website

The Kowloon peninsula of Hong Kong across Victoria Harbour. The national security law is one of many seismic legal and political changes seen in Hong Kong in recent years. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 14, 2022 10:17 AM GMT

Updated: March 14, 2022 10:22 AM GMT

A UK-based rights group today pledged not to remain silent after Hong Kong's government demanded it shutter its website 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.

But today's announcement means Hong Kong Watch becomes the first overseas advocacy group to confirm it is in the crosshairs of a sweeping national security law which Beijing imposed to snuff out dissent in the financial hub in mid-2020.

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"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," the group's 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," added the activist, who was barred from visiting the city in 2017.

Hong Kong's Security Bureau accused the group of "colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security," according to an email sent on March 10 which Hong Kong Watch posted in full on its website today.

Hong Kong Watch is supported by a number of UK politicians, including Hong Kong's last colonial-era governor Chris Patten

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 Security Bureau said in its email.

Hong Kong's police chief also sent a notice the same day demanding that the group remove all publications from its website.

"Should you fail to do so, further action will be instituted ... without further notice," the email warned.

The Hong Kong police said it does not comment on specific cases but added that the public can continue to use the internet "lawfully."

Founded in 2017, Hong Kong Watch monitors "threats to Hong Kong's basic freedoms, the rule of law and autonomy."

The national security law is one of many seismic legal and political changes seen in Hong Kong in recent years as China remoulds the former British colony in its own authoritarian image.

Hong Kong Watch is supported by a number of UK politicians, including Hong Kong's last colonial-era governor Chris Patten.

Since last month, its website has not been accessible in the Chinese territory without use of a VPN.

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