Freedom of Expression

Basic Law

The Basic Law is Hong Kong's mini-constitution. It establishes the essential political and legal principles, and guarantees specific rights for its citizens. Freedom of expression is directly addressed in the Article 27. Meanwhile, there are fears that the constitutional duty of safeguarding national security which is stipulated in Article 23 may jeopardize citizen's civil liberties.

Article 27

Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions, and to strike.

Article 23

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People's Government, or theft of state secrets, to prohibit foreign political organizations or bodies from conducting political activities in the Region, and to prohibit political organizations or bodies of the Region from establishing ties with foreign political organizations or bodies.
Crimes Ordinance (Cap 200)

The statistics released by Facebook shows an increasing number of user data requests from the Hong Kong government since 2013. At the same time, a lot of activists have been arrested for online comments, half of which were made on Facebook. They were charged with under Section 161 of the Crimes Ordinance — “access to computer with criminal or dishonest intent” — and some have been found guilty.

Critics argue that the authorities repress political activists’ speech on the internet since Section 161 has a lower standard for prosecution than the more substantial offences such as “illegal gathering”, “criminal intimidation”, or “assaulting police”.

Section 161: Access to computer with criminal or dishonest intent

(1) Any person who obtains access to a computer-

(a) with intent to commit an offence;

(b) with a dishonest intent to deceive;

(c) with a view to dishonest gain for himself or another; or

(d) with a dishonest intent to cause loss to another,

whether on the same occasion as he obtains such access or on any future occasion, commits an offence and is liable on conviction upon indictment to imprisonment for 5 years.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1) “gain” (獲益) and “loss” (損失) are to be construed as extending not only to gain or loss in money or other property, but as extending to any such gain or loss whether temporary or permanent; and-

(a) “gain” (獲益) includes a gain by keeping what one has, as well as a gain by getting what one has not; and

(b) “loss” (損失) includes a loss by not getting what one might get, as well as a loss by parting with what one has.


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Copyright Ordinance (Cap 528)

Hong Kong’s Copyright Ordinance is frequently cited in content removal requests by the Government, corporations and individuals.

It is often difficult to determine the validity of these requests without more detailed information. In the meantime, Internet organizations are creating guidelines covering the circumstances in which they will remove content. In some cases, they are providing a specific format for requests and can require proof of copyright.

These new guidelines and procedures mean more work for both the requester and the organization considering the request. Some say the process is too slow to respond adequately to copyright violations, but others have cited cases (1, 2) in which material has been improperly removed. Some also have suggested that removal requests are fraudulently made to achieve competitive advantage.


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Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (Cap 390)

Enacted in 1987 before the advent of the Internet, this ordinance aims “to control articles which consist of or contain material that is obscene or indecent (including material that is violent, depraved or repulsive), to establish tribunals to determine whether an article is obscene or indecent, or whether matter publicly displayed is indecent, and to classify articles as obscene or indecent or neither obscene nor indecent, and for matters incidental thereto.”

Hong Kong’s obscenity law and its enforcement in recent years, complicated by the rising popularity of online content, have resulted in much controversy and public debate. The Hong Kong government has conducted two public consultations since 2000, with no legislative changes to date.

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