Article 23 Still Threatens Hong Kong Civil Liberties
In advance of the Hong Kong Legislative Council's vote on controversial and ominous new security legislation, Freedom House, in cooperation with Human Rights Watch, is hosting a senior level delegation of Hong Kong democratic activists in Washington DC from June 1-7.
The delegation, led by Martin Lee, founding chairman of the Democratic Party in Hong Kong, will consist of Hong Kong's best-known leaders representing the legal, human rights, journalistic, and labor communities. The delegation is traveling to Washington and New York to raise awareness that fundamental freedoms within Hong Kong are at risk unless the international community takes action.
The delegation will hold a panel discussion, followed by a press briefing on Capitol Hill on Monday, June 2 from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m. in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 628. The discussion will be open to the public and the press.
In addition to Mr. Lee, members of the delegation include:
- Ms. Margaret NG, barrister, legislator and legal community representative
- Mr. James TO, solicitor and legislator
- Mr. Jesse WONG, Executive Committee Member of the Hong Kong Journalists Association
- Mr. LAW Yuk-kai, Director of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor
- Ms. Elizabeth TANG, Chief Executive of Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions
At issue is Hong Kong's proposed National Security Bill, due for a vote by the Legislative Council on July 9.
On February 14, the Hong Kong government announced national security legislation that would assign penalties for acts of treason, sedition, and subversion. Hong Kong business organizations and democracy activists--including students, journalists, human rights activists, and religious groups--have denounced the law, calling it a direct threat to fundamental civil liberties guaranteed for Hong Kong residents after the territory's handover from the United Kingdom five years ago.
A December 2002 Freedom House Special Report raised concerns that the legislation then under development, did not meet international standards and would grant the Hong Kong government enormous latitude to suppress basic freedoms arbitrarily. Despite several improvements in the law following an initial consultation period, serious issues remain with the proposed legislation.
"Broad and vaguely defined national security laws, like the one proposed under Article 23, offer opportunities for the government in Hong Kong--and by extension, Beijing--to prosecute legitimate but criticism, stifle debate, and threaten independent civic groups," said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. "This legislation, combined with the absence of a democratic system of checks and balances, will result in significant restrictions on freedom of expression and association in Hong Kong."
The provisions of most concern are:
Sedition: The definition of the offense of sedition is overly broad, and lacks internationally accepted safeguards. The law would have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and press within Hong Kong, particularly because of the inclusion of an offense for handling, distributing, or displaying publications deemed seditious.
Subversion: The definition of the offense of subversion includes "disestablishing" the basic system of the People's Republic of China, and "intimidating" the Central People's government. Neither term is defined, and both could be used to criminalize public rallies or other nonviolent protest to push for democratic reform within the Mainland.
Ban of Proscription: The legislation allows the government to ban organizations which are subordinate to ones prohibited on the Mainland, a clause that appears to give the ability of Beijing to ban particular religious and labor organizations that operate in Hong Kong and mainland China.
Enforcement: Especially worrying are the new powers granted to senior police officers to approve searches without a warrant.
Freedom House also condemned the process by which the bill has been handled by the Hong Kong government. The government never released the full draft legislation to the public before introducing it into the legislative council, a move that prevents full public consultation and allows the government-influenced legislators, less than half of whom are directly democratically elected, to restrict the legislative change process.
"The U.S. government must take immediate action to make its views known to the governments of both Hong Kong and Beijing," Ms. Windsor said. "They must allow full public debate and recommendations for modifications to this important legislation to protect fundamental freedoms within Hong Kong."
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.