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Access Now expresses concerns over injunction to ban messages on information-sharing platforms in open letter to HK government

“#KeepItOn: Keeping the internet open and secure in Hong Kong”, 1 November 2019

… 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 LIHKG under the banner of preventing the incitement of violence…

… 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.

… 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…

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…

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