A net-friend is in trouble. Oiwan Lam, an important Hong Kong blogger, is at the center of an absurd indecency case. She has challenged Hong Kong’s outdated obscenity laws, and is now facing fines and prison time. Global Voices Online has a discussion of the case.

As Boingboing and others reported earlier this week, Oiwan’s post has been classified as “Class II indecent” by Hong Kong’s Obscene Articles Tribunal. The maximum penalty for this is HK$400,000 (US$ 51,162) and one year in jail. Whether or not she ends up doing jail time, she certainly faces a long drawn out court battle and series of appeals, and if she loses will end paying a hefty fine. People in the media business with experience fighting such cases also point out that the implications of a conviction are quite serious because the conviction is passed to all governments and would affect her ability to get visas.

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Oiwan displayed and linked to this photo as part of a protest against the fining of a man who posted links to porn sites in an adult online discussion group. She was also protesting the fact that a local student publication was recently classified as indecent after publishing a questionnaire about sexual behavior. She discusses her reasons in English here, here (WARNING: same warning as above applies to these two links), and here. Also see two posts about the earlier cases on Global Voices here and here.

Further information, and a link where you can donate, may be found on Rebecca MacKinnon’s site. Or go directly and donate here. Oiwan discusses her case here. Roland Soong over at ESWN blogs on the stupidity of TELA, the Hong Kong agency that determines what obscenity is, here. The photo is online at Flickr.

This is an important case for Hong Kong and for the internet in the Chinese sphere. The obscenity laws are used by the Chinese authorities as a weapon to crack down on the internet, just as in the US the government uses terrorism as an excuse to erode civil liberties. As Oiwan herself observes:

Another gap through which political censorship can be introduced is pornography. This gap gathers the power of the state as well as the forces of religious people and fake moral politicians. So far, they have focused on gender and gay rights groups, but we must extend our battlelines in light of the court decision two days ago: the police filed charges against a netizen for posting hyperlinks to pornographic websites at a certain forum and the court arrived at a guilty verdict with a fine of HK$5,000. This is a very significant precedent for censorship.

This case also shows what is in store for Taiwan should China come to rule it.

Please read about Oiwan’s case and donate to her defense. People like Oiwan make the world a better place.

UPDATES: A blog on the issue.