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HONG KONG — Access to an online museum commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre appeared to be blocked in Hong Kong, the latest regression for Internet freedoms and a strike against a symbol of what distinguished the city from mainland China.

The website, 8964museum.com, which chronicles the massacre in timelines and other descriptions, was inaccessible in the city without a virtual private network on Thursday but reachable from other parts of the world. The museum's physical space closed earlier this year; police also raided it a few weeks ago.

The tightening of controls on material the Chinese government considers sensitive comes as Hong Kong moves to scrub official remembrance of the June 4, 1989, slaughter of hundreds of pro-democracy protesters in Beijing. For years, commemorations in Hong Kong were a sign of how the territory operated differently to mainland China under a "one country, two systems" deal. But an annual vigil held peacefully for decades has now been banned and the activists involved jailed. The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which wants accountability for the Tiananmen crackdown, recently voted to disband amid a national security probe into its leaders.

Erasing memories of Tiananmen fits within Beijing’s broader remaking of Hong Kong, using a far-reaching national security law to detain and silence government critics, activists, and civil society groups. But Internet censorship could have wider ramifications for foreign companies in Hong Kong, according to experts, and harm its competitiveness.


Hong Kong telecommunications company PCCW said it had no comment on the issue. Other Internet service providers, Hong Kong Broadband Network and 3HK, did not respond to requests for comment.

A spokesperson for the Hong Kong Police Force would not comment on individual cases but said the security law allowed police to ask platform service providers to restrict access or remove electronic messages "likely to constitute an offense endangering national security."


The operators of 8964museum.com couldn't be reached immediately for comment. In a statement to Reuters, they labeled the Internet block "a disgraceful act to erase historical memory."

Glacier Kwong, a Hong Kong digital rights activist now based in Germany, said the move had a chilling effect and would heighten residents' fears about the security law.

"We are a step closer to implementing the Great Firewall in Hong Kong," Kwong said, referring to mainland China's sophisticated Internet controls.

There is growing censorship in Hong Kong, even though the city’s mini-constitution is supposed to protect free expression. In January, Hong Kong Broadband Network confirmed to local media that it blocked HKChronicles, an antigovernment website that revealed officials’ personal data, at the request of the police. In June, police asked Wix, an Israeli web hosting provider, to take down the 2021 Hong Kong Charter project, a site run by pro-democracy activists. Wix said it took down the site “by mistake” and restored access shortly after.

The move against the Tiananmen museum website came ahead of China's National Day on Friday, when the Hong Kong police are expected to deploy thousands of officers to suppress any dissent.

The online museum is operated by an independent team but obtained funds in a 2020 crowdfunding event by the Hong Kong Alliance. With smooth animation and poetry excerpts that lead the user experience, the site preserves and displays files, images, oral history, and relics about Tiananmen “perpetually,” according to its description.


The 1989 crackdown is a sensitive topic in mainland China, left out in official textbooks and heavily censored online. Even simple images of candles or playing cards that show the numerals 6 and 4 - to reflect the date of the massacre - are redacted on the Chinese Internet. Outspoken activists have often been detained ahead of each anniversary, and parents prohibited from mourning children who died at the square.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong is dismantling other vestiges of its past freedoms. This week, public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong, previously known for its hard-hitting journalism, issued new editorial guidelines that require staff to support the government in "safeguarding national security and interests." Kitty Choi, director of broadcasting, said RTHK journalists could continue to interview sources who are critical of the government as long as they are "genuine comments made by real people."

Chris Tang, Hong Kong’s secretary for security, has also said the government will work on legislation to define new national security offenses. He said the time is “ripe” to enact Article 23 - a long-shelved bill targeting sedition and subversion of the ruling Communist Party - in the next legislative term, with a focus on countering “espionage activities.”