Hong Kong, China: Following a takedown order from the Chinese financial hub’s authorities, Israel-based web provider Wix removed a Hong Kong democracy website from its servers, a decision the firm called “a mistake” on Friday.
Later, the firm reversed its decision and reopened the property. However, this is the first documented instance of Hong Kong authorities utilizing a broad new national security law to order that information on foreign websites be censored.
Wix had disabled www.2021HKCharter.com, a website set up by expatriate activists pushing for democracy in Hong Kong, according to Nathan Law, a former student leader, and Hong Kong legislator who fled to Britain last year.
He released a letter from Hong Kong police demanding that Wix remove the website because it contained remarks that were “likely to constitute offenses harming national security.”
If Wix employees refuse, they risk a fine and six months in prison, according to the letter.
The website was taken down on Monday, according to Law, and he tried in private contact to persuade Wix to restore it.
After Law went public, the website returned.
“The website was removed by mistake,” a Wix spokesperson told AFP by email on Friday. “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 statement added.
The takedown order comes as China’s efforts to quell dissent in Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous territory cause concern among digital companies.
After massive and often violent democratic protests in 2019, Beijing enforced a broad security ordinance on the city.
Many forms of dissent were illegal, and authorities were given extensive internet takedown powers.
China has also granted itself “universal jurisdiction” to prosecute anyone suspected of committing a national security offense anywhere in the world.
As a result, tech businesses, particularly those with headquarters or servers in Hong Kong or a presence in the mainland Chinese market, may find themselves in a precarious position.
A “Great Firewall” encircles the internet in authoritarian China.
Although Hong Kong currently allows unrestricted web access, officials have begun to tighten Internet controls.
New legislation was approved earlier this week that makes it mandatory to provide identification when purchasing pre-paid SIM cards.
Following the introduction of the security law, Google, Facebook, and Twitter said last year that they would no longer react to removal demands from Hong Kong authorities.
Wix, like its competitor SquareSpace, has grown in popularity as a website builder, offering simple drag-and-drop capabilities as well as templates to help individuals create their own online pages rapidly.