A temporary ban has been placed on any social media messages which are seen to encourage violence in Hong Kong.
Secretary for justice Theresa Cheng applied for the injunction in Hong Kong’s High Court today, Thursday 31 October. It then received approval from Judge Russel Adam Coleman.
The injunction itself prohibits the “disseminating, sharing, or resharing” of any material that “promotes, encourages or incites” violent activity.
Cheng’s injunction also specifically names the social media site LIHKG, a Chinese language forum similar to Reddit.
This ban will last until at least 15 November, when it will face a formal hearing. Depending on the result of this hearing, it could be extended well beyond this time.
Hong Kong has been undergoing a period of unrest since the government passed an extradition law in June, which would allow prisoners to be extradited to China if wanted for a criminal offence.
This has been viewed as a method by which China could arrest political fugitives.
On 8 October, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam warned that there would be “no options ruled out” were the anti-government protests to continue, stating that “those who play with fire will pay with it.”
The extradition bill was formally scrapped in October, but unrest continues as protesters demand investigation into police behavior, as well as amnesty for those who were arrested during the protests.
There have been increasing efforts to censor communication between protestors over the last few months. In early October Apple pulled both the HKmap.live map app and the Quartz news app from the Apple App Store.
HKmap.live had been used to help protestors keep track of police locations, while the Quartz news app had published stories critical of China’s role in the Hong Kong protests.
At the same time, Hong Kong police formally requested Facebook remove images of the protests, which it calls “defamatory or unfounded accusations.” Unlike Apple, however, the company has yet to comply.
Other measures include a face mask ban, implemented in Hong Kong on 5 October in an attempt to deter protestors. The ban was passed using a 1922 emergency law which allows the city’s leader to implement “any regulations whatsoever” during a public emergency.
Today, as tensions escalate, police fired tear gas at protesters defying the ban, which is being called unconstitutional.
Despite concerns that the 1922 law would be invoked again, this injunction against inciting violence marks the first major escalation in state censorship since the imposition of the mask ban, and has been implemented by a different legal mechanism.