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In Hong Kong, access to online museum about Tiananmen Square appears blocked

Under a national security law, officials in the Chinese territory have been cracking down on groups that commemorate Beijing's 1989 pro-democracy protests.
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/ Source: Reuters

HONG KONG — Access to an online museum dedicated to the victims of China's 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square appeared to be restricted in Hong Kong, with the website accusing authorities of censorship.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, the organizers of annual June 4 vigils in the global financial hub, announced the opening of "8964 Museum" last month. The website operated independently from the Alliance, it said.

Hong Kong users have not been able to access the website from the city since Thursday without using virtual private networks. Internet service provider PCCW declined to comment. Providers HKBN and 3HK did not respond to requests for comment.

"This is a disgraceful act to erase historical memory," the online museum said in a statement.

Police officers take away a cardboard featuring the image of Goddess of Democracy from the June 4th museum in Hong Kong on Sept. 9, 2021.Kin Cheung / AP

Hong Kong police said they could not comment on individual cases, but said national security legislation states that "police may require service providers to take actions to prohibit electronic messages posted on electronic platforms that are likely to endanger national security."

While the internet in mainland China is heavily censored and access to foreign social media platforms and news sites is blocked, Hong Kong residents have so far enjoyed greater freedoms under the "one country, two systems" framework agreed when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

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The first censorship case under the security law Beijing imposed on the city in 2020 emerged in January when authorities blocked access to HKChronicles, a website inspired by Hong Kong's 2019 antigovernment protests that published the personal information of police officers.

The June 4th Museum's physical location in Hong Kong closed in June over a licensing investigation and has since been added to a list of assets and bank accounts frozen by authorities as part of a national security investigation against the Alliance.

The organization said last week it would disband after police accused it of being "an agent of foreign forces," raided the museum's premises, and charged the group with inciting subversion under the national security law.

Richard Tsoi
Richard Tsoi of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which held annual Tiananmen vigils in the Chinese territory for three decades, speaking after the group voted to disband, Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.Kin Cheung / AP

The Alliance, which denies the allegations, was the latest of dozens of civil society bodies to fold over the past year.

Its leaders Albert Ho and Lee Cheuk-yan, like dozens of other pro-democracy activists and politicians, are in jail over the 2019 protests and also face national security charges.

Hong Kong authorities have repeatedly denied curbing human rights and freedoms, saying law enforcement has been based on evidence and has nothing to do with the background, profession or political beliefs of those arrested.

Hong Kong traditionally holds the world's largest annual June 4 vigil, although police banned the last two events over coronavirus concerns. Mainland China bans commemorations and heavily censors the topic.

China has never provided a full account of the 1989 crackdown. Officials gave a death toll of about 300 days afterward, but rights groups and witnesses say thousands may have been killed.