Censorship resistance: Hong Kong’s Apple Daily archives preserved by artist Kevin Abosch

When 20 years of pro-democracy journalism is under threat, blockchain's potential for censorship-resistance is brought into focus.

From June 20 1995 until June 23 2021, Hongkongers concerned about growing Chinese influence in the Special Administrative Region had at least one local media outlet in their corner. 

Apple Daily was known for its pro-democracy stance, when not covering sensationalist tabloid-style news — two editorial innovations that set it apart from almost all other media outlets in Hong Kong at the time of its launch.

And although the publication survived a 2020 raid on its offices, when the CEO, COO, Editor in Chief and other executives were arrested by police on June 17 2021 on suspicion of violating Article 29, a Hong Kong law passed in 2020 with the backing of the Chinese government that precludes “collusion with external forces to endanger national security”, Apple Daily was finished.

But Irish artist Kevin Abosch intends to ensure that even though Apple Daily is gone, it will not be forgotten.

His new artwork, PERSISTENCE, is a USB drive that contains over 11,000 news articles from Apple Daily, as well as an executable file that can be used to boot a Koii node secured by the Arweave blockchain.

“The battle to preserve freedom of the press will be fought with technological weaponry,” claims Abosch.

Numerous organizations, including Reporters Without Borders, are on record as suggesting that the national security law in question was used by the “Hong Kong government… to take down a symbolic figure of press freedom.” The European Union spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security said that the closing of Apple Daily  "seriously undermines media freedom and pluralism, which are essential for any open and free society."

“It’s understandable that autocrats fear decentralized technology as they fear anything they can’t control absolutely,” continued Abosch in reference to what he describes as the “China-controlled Hong Kong government”.

PERSISTENCE is not just an art intervention — It is a proof of concept for a weapon designed to thwart attempts to censor journalists.”

Abosch has become a celebrated artist in the cryptoart sector, renowned for his experimentations with cryptography and codes. He has previously told Cointelegraph that “My truth, and the promise of crypto, is that privacy is a human right.”

Related: NFTs make it possible for gamers to have digital property rights.

This is his second collaboration with Koii Labs, which is developing a decentralized protocol for high volume, transparent activities in areas including public archive curation, reputation systems, and digital media rights.

Koii founder Al Morris said that “Whether conflicts are armed or cultural, the history books are usually written by the prevailing force. Decentralized technology makes it possible for all participants in the human struggle to preserve their voices forever."

Abosch has previously discussed his plans to outfit an orbital CubeSat with a Koii node, with the intention of providing climate change mapping to researchers. At the time, he also revealed that he had coded a reference to the location of Uyghur ‘concentration camps’ in Xinjiang into an artwork that he had presented to the National Museum of China in Beijing.

Abosch also includes an encrypted key suggesting ownership of a non-fungible token (NFT) and a set of hacker tools on the PERSISTENCE drive “that may prove useful under certain circumstances”.

The artwork will be presented at London’s Pippy Houldsworth Gallery from July 9 until August 6 2021.

PERSISTENCE by Kevin Abosch / courtesy the artist.

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