London-based Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Nathan Law said on Thursday that Hong Kong police asked his website hosting company, Wix.com of Tel Aviv, to shut down his 2021 Hong Kong Charter website because it allegedly violated China’s tyrannical national security law and Wix complied with the request.
Hong Kong Police requested the Israeli company @Wix to disable our website, otherwise prosecuting the company. Wix complied.
It shows that our freedom of speech is not protected even we are not in Hong Kong and China.
Here is our statement. pic.twitter.com/A0xlNGy9Ul
— Nathan Law 羅冠聰 (@nathanlawkc) June 3, 2021
Law said the incident “shows that our freedom of speech is not protected even if we are not in Hong Kong and China.”
Wix issued a statement Friday confirming the incident and apologizing for the matter. The website has since returned online.
Wix is a web hosting platform that maintains a significant presence in the United States and purports to “gives you the freedom to create, design, manage and develop your web presence exactly the way you want.”
Law launched the 2021 Hong Kong Charter project in March along with fellow activists Sunny Cheung, Alex Chow, Glacier Kwong, Ray Wong, and Brian Leung, plus former Hong Kong legislators Ted Hui and Baggio Leung.
The charter calls for unity among exiled Hong Kongers and support for the pro-democracy movement struggling for survival on the island after Communist China’s ruthless crackdown last year. The founders of the project sought refuge in the U.K. and Australia after suffering harassment or prosecution under the “national security law” China illegally imposed on Hong Kong, effectively criminalizing all dissent as sedition, treason, or collusion with foreign powers.
In addition to demanding the restoration of Hong Kong’s deeply compromised autonomy, the charter calls for restoring free speech rights, ending the politicized prosecution of dissidents, ending the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) single-party domination of Hong Kong, and halting China’s “cultural cleansing and genocide” in Inner Mongolia, Tibet, and Xinjiang province.
Law said at a March 15 press conference debuting the charter that its authors want to “build up our pathway back home, and also consolidate the effort of international advocacy work and lay out our beliefs to the international community clearly.”
The 2021 Hong Kong Charter has been signed by hundreds of Hong Kongers living abroad, and Hong Kong organizations based outside of the city, as of Thursday. As the original signers pointed out, people living inside Hong Kong could be prosecuted under the national security law for signing such a document.
As the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported two days after the rollout press conference, the Hong Kong Security Bureau quickly decided the charter violated the national security law and anyone who signed it could be charged with “planning or participating in acts that undermine sovereignty or colluding with foreign forces to sanction or engage in hostile activities against Hong Kong and the mainland [China].”
The Security Bureau claimed its edict extended beyond Hong Kong and China to cover Hong Kong residents living abroad, including those in countries that offer constitutional protection for free speech.
On May 24, the Hong Kong police sent a letter to Wix.com, the Israeli company hosting the 2021hkcharter.com website, invoking Chinese law to demand Wix disable the site because it supposedly endangered China’s national security.
Hong Kong police threatened Wix with fines of up to $100,000 and imprisonment for up to six months if it did not comply within 72 hours. According to Law, Wix did comply on May 31, taking 2021hkcharter.com offline for three days.
Law said he hoped Wix and other providers “learned from this incident” that they “should not comply with CCP [demands] to limit free speech.”
In a longer statement issued on Thursday, Law said the incident was a “clear example of China’s long arm of influence under the new security law.”
“It is outrageous that a website advocating democracy, even though it is located outside of China, might be blocked just because China considers it subversive,” he wrote. “It raises the possibility that other websites and online remarks critical of China will be the next targets of Beijing’s internet censorship.”
“The Great Firewall of China is now at the doorstep of the world’s democracies, threatening the international community’s freedoms of speech and expression,” he warned, calling on “civil society and human rights organizations throughout the world” to join forces against China’s malevolent influence.
On Thursday afternoon, Wix sent an email to reporters clarifying that it did take the 2021 Hong Kong Charter website down due to “screening” of its content, but it concluded that decision was made in error and the site was restored.
“We have reviewed our initial screening and have realized that the website never should have been removed and we would like to apologize. We are also reviewing our screening process in order to improve and make sure that mistakes such as this do not repeat in the future,” the Wix email said.