HONG KONG – Israel-based host Wix pulled a Hong Kong democracy website from its servers following a request by police to remove the Chinese financial center, a move the company called Friday ‘”mistake”.
The company then reversed the decision and re-established the site. However, the removal is the first known case of Hong Kong police using a sweeping new national security law to demand foreign websites censor content.
Nathan Law, a former student leader and Hong Kong lawmaker who fled to Britain last year, tweeted Thursday that Wix had withdrawn www.2021HKCharter.com, a website created by foreign activists calling for democracy in the city.
He shared a letter that Hong Kong police wrote to Wix demanding that the website be taken down because it contained messages “that may constitute offenses that endanger national security.”
Wix employees, the letter warns, could face a fine and six months in prison if they refuse.
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Law said the website was shut down on Monday and tried to persuade Wix to reinstate it in private correspondence.
The website only reappeared after Law’s publication.
“The website was deleted by mistake,” a spokesperson for Wix told AFP on Friday. “We have reviewed our initial selection and realized that the website should never have been deleted and we apologize.”
“We are also reviewing our selection process in order to improve ourselves and ensure that such errors do not recur in the future,” the statement added.
The pullout order comes as China’s campaign to silence dissent in semi-autonomous Hong Kong shakes tech brands.
Beijing imposed a sweeping security law on the city after huge and often violent protests for democracy in 2019.
The law prohibited many forms of dissent and gave police broad powers of internet withdrawal.
China has also granted itself “universal jurisdiction” to prosecute any perceived national security crime committed by anyone abroad.
This leaves tech companies in a potentially precarious position, especially those with offices or servers in Hong Kong or a presence in the mainland Chinese market.
Authoritarian China keeps the Internet surrounded by a “great firewall.”
Hong Kong still maintains open online access, but authorities have started to step up online checks.
Earlier this week, new legislation was passed making it mandatory to show ID when purchasing prepaid SIM cards.
Last year, Google, Facebook and Twitter said they would stop responding to Hong Kong authorities’ withdrawal requests after the security law was imposed.
Like its rival SquareSpace, Wix has become a popular website builder, enabling simple drag-and-drop tools as well as templates that allow users to quickly create their own online pages.