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Beijing ruins Hong Kong's liberties
Paul Lin
3/2/2003



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The people of Hong Kong were filled with agony on Valentine's Day. The Special Administrative Region government chose to publish the National Security (Legislative Provisions) bill, the so-called "blue bill," (draft law) on that day -- a clear indication that legislation aimed at implementing Article 23 of the Basic Law, which curbs Hong Kong's freedoms and rights, is entering the legislative procedure, and that the Legislative Council is going to pass the bill.

Earlier, the authorities compiled suggestions submitted by the public on the bill and proposed some revisions on Jan. 18. Even though the compendium distorted some opinions, the revisions mesmerized some people because they contained some necessary compromises. But only after the bill was made public did people truly understand how deceitful and unscrupulous the authorities had been.

When the government released the consultation document in September of last year, the Hong Kong Bar Association was fiercely against the government hastily rolling out a blue bill. The association demanded a second round of consultation with the public in the form of a "white bill" (a consultation paper) because it already saw that "the devil is in the details." Legal circles and all walks of Hong Kong society would therefore need sufficient time to study and understand the complex contents of the proposed provisions before they could find inadequacies and fill the legal loopholes. But the authorities categorically rejected that demand.

The blue bill shows how the authorities used concessions on trivial matters to conceal onslaughts on key issues. Many "devils" have been found in the details of the provisions. These murderous devils were deeply concealed both during the consultation process and in the suggested revisions. Only when the blue bill was made public were they stealthily put on stage.

What worries Hong Kong people most is the government's refusal to make any compromise on "proscribed organizations." They allow Chinese laws that ban certain organizations in China to encroach into Hong Kong. This will destroy Hong Kong's rule of law as well as its freedoms and rights. The secretary for security only needs to "reasonably believe" Beijing's verdict before cracking down on Hong Kong organizations affiliated with those deemed to be treasonous, subversive or seditious by Beijing. How could this be the rule of law?

Next, when hearing an appeal from a proscribed organization, the court may order a closed-door hearing and keep the public out on national security grounds. The provisions also allow the Chief Justice of the Court of Final Appeal to conduct hearings without the appellants obtaining full details on the reasons why they have been proscribed. They even allow the court to conduct hearings in the absence of the appellants or their legal representatives. With Hong Kong's judicial independence already being steadily eroded by China, secret hearings will inevitably bring the Chinese Communist Party's lawlessness to the territory.

Besides, the authorities have not only maintained the crime of "unauthorized disclosure" of state secrets, but have also drastically increased the penalties for it compared to existing laws -- up from a HK$5,000 (US$641) fine and two years in prison to a HK$500,000 (US$64,100) fine and seven years in prison.

The crime of "sedition," punishable by life imprisonment, is also ill-defined. In particular, publishing with an "intent to incite others" is a crime. These provisions can be used against Wang Bingzhang, a Chinese dissident kidnapped in Vietnam and taken to China last year.

Do Hong Kong and China still have "two systems"?

The threat posed by the bill should not be underestimated. In particular, it will compel the media to step up self-censorship.

When it comes to emergency investigation powers, only chief superintendents can now decide whether to conduct house searches (as opposed to superintendents prior to the revisions). However, even in the case of a mistaken search, the police can use the materials obtained during the search for indictment for other crimes against national security or other criminal acts. This is the CCP's usual trick -- arresting someone on charges of crime A and then indicting him for a fabricated crime B on the basis of testimony obtained through coercion.

In addition to the "devils" contained in the bill, some commentators have also pointed out even more dreadful devils in the minds of the authorities. The legislation clearly targets individuals and organizations whom the authorities believe to "harboring ill intent." Besides, the fact that the Security Bureau, a law enforcement body -- not the Department of Justice -- is promoting the bill indicates heavy-handed, forced legislation.

Next, a decision was made at the very beginning not to present a white bill but instead to conduct a formal, phoney consultation. The authorities' hostile attitude toward their own people and their wrangling with legal circles resulted in endless conflict.

No matter what, the authorities must put the legislation into effect starting July 1 so as to avoid a long nightmare that may affect the votes for pro-CCP people in next year's Legislative Council elections. Finally, Valentine's Day was deliberately chosen for the release of the blue bill in order to minimize the impact. Under these circumstances, disaster is inevitable for the people of Hong Kong.

Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.

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