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Hong Kong should defend freedom
Theresa Chu, LL.B & LL.M

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As Hong Kong prepares to enact anti-subversion legislation aimed at realizing Article 23 of the Basic Law, the world is watching how the Pearl of the Orient will defend the freedoms and the rule of law that it has enjoyed until now.

In recent days, the European Parliament, the US State Department, the British consulate-general in Hong Kong, Canada's ministry of foreign affairs and the Austrian chapter of the International Association for Human Rights have all passed resolutions or issued statements expressing their concern and opposition to Article 23.

Aimed at suppressing dissent, Article 23 is inimical to freedom and human rights. It also contains procedural flaws and is nothing less than another extension of the Chinese Communist Party's authoritarian regime.

Hong Kong's existing laws -- including the Crimes Ordinance, the Emergency Regulations Ordinance and the Societies Ordinance -- already contain considerable regulations on the seven crimes prohibited in Article 23; namely "treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People's Government, theft of state secrets, ... foreign political organizations or bodies ... conducting political activities in the Region, and ... political organizations or bodies of the Region ... establishing ties with foreign political organizations or bodies."

Most members of Hong Kong's legal and administrative circles say that there is no need for another anti-subversion law.

But the Hong Kong government insists on passing the law, even though the suggested definitions of the crimes are fuzzy.

Under Article 23, police powers will be expanded, enabling officers to enter and search private houses and confiscate materials without a search warrant. This will be no different from the random searches already practiced in the rest of China.

Furthermore, the application of extra-territoriality -- foreigners will be deemed to violate the above seven crimes when they conduct such activities outside of Hong Kong -- encroaches on the freedoms of speech, thought and assembly as well as on press and religious freedoms.

These provisions violate Article 39 of the Basic Law, which stipulates that restrictions placed on the rights and freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong residents must not contravene the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and international labor conventions as applied to Hong Kong.

They also run counter to the spirit of safeguarding human rights and freedoms as upheld in the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance. How can the people of Hong Kong and the international community tolerate a law that breaches the Basic Law's safeguards for human rights and freedom and flouts existing regulations?

Upon close analysis, we discover that the people of Hong Kong never supported the Article 23 provisions, which are similar to the "anti-revolutionary" crimes of China.

The historical background is that the Chinese government was fearful after the Tiananmen Incident of 1989 and was therefore eager to strengthen its control over Hong Kong by way of this article. The Hong Kong government's current insistence on legislation to ratify Article 23 is simply another example of how it has bowed to the Communist Party's political pressure at the expense of the Hong Kong people's rights and freedoms.

In late September, the Hong Kong government released its "Consultation Document" on Article 23. The chapter in that document on "Foreign Political Organizations" expands the Hong Kong government's power to ban organizations on national security grounds. It does so by including organizations "affiliated with a Mainland organization which has been proscribed in the Mainland by the Central Authorities, in accordance with national law on the ground that it endangers national security."

By means of legislation, the Communist Party is violating the promise it made in Article 5 of the Basic Law that "one country, two systems" will remain unchanged for 50 years. Furthermore, it is extending its backward authoritarian rule to Hong Kong, thereby violating the basic human rights and freedoms of the Hong Kong people. It is also attempting to impose on Hong Kong its desire to suppress the Falun Gong and other peaceful organizations.

The Hong Kong government should not bow to realpolitik at the expense of the Hong Kong people's rights and freedoms. It should firmly insist on democracy and the rule of law, and stand up to the Chinese government on the "one country, two systems" issue.

The Hong Kong government must not yield to the political ambitions of Chinese leaders and sacrifice the Falun Gong students' rights to freedom of speech, religion, thought and assembly. To do so would be to completely destroy Hong Kong's liberal image and the international community's faith in Hong Kong's resolve to uphold the rule of law.

I hope the Hong Kong government will rationally reject an expansion of the authoritarian regime and lend its ear to the people who voice their opposition to Article 23.

*Theresa Chu is assistant vice president of New York Life Insurance Taiwan Corp.

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