(31 October 2019) The High Court has granted an interim injunction to temporarily ban publishing anything online deemed to encourage violence, valid till 15 November 2019. The application by the Secretary for Justice asked that the court restrain anyone from “disseminating, sharing, or resharing” any information or material that “promotes, encourages or incites” violence against any person or unlawful damage against other persons or property, and included the messaging app Telegram and on the LIHKG discussion forum.
Charles Mok, Legislative Councillor of the Information Technology sector, strongly opposes the Secretary for Justice’s application to ban online speech. “The temporary injunction sets an extremely dangerous precedent for introducing internet censorship of online speech similar to the Great Firewall of China. It is a serious breach of citizens’ freedom of expression and Hong Kong’s supposed free flow of information.”
Mok further points out that currently there are already legislations against inciting unlawful behaviours, and questions the administration’s approach of bypassing the scrutiny of the Legislative Council to introduce partial internet ban through the application of an injunction. Charles Mok expresses reservation over the effectiveness of such a ban against online speech, and whether Carrie Lam’s government is in effect quickening Hong Kong’s turn into “one country, one system”.
Free flow of information is one of the most crucial factors that underpin Hong Kong’s favourable business environment and attractiveness to international investors. “Selectively banning online speech would put Hong Kong’s economy and in particular its innovation and technology industries in a precarious position. The government’s move is grossly irresponsible,” says Mok.
He notes if the government invokes the power under the Emergency Regulations Ordinance to expand the ban, for example, by requiring telecom operators and internet service providers to restrict access to websites or applications, the damage to Hong Kong’s open and free internet, as well as free flow of information, will be devastating. It would also deal a heavy blow to the financial and professional services industries and internet industries of Hong Kong.
Charles Mok previously issued an open letter on 5 October to the Chief Executive Mrs. Carrie Lam and the Members of Executive Council, urging them to refrain from using the powers of the Emergency Regulations Ordinance to enact any regulations to block, filter or affect the connection to any online platform or websites.
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