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A letter to HK's Executive Council by media groups
AFAR
6/1/2003



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To the Honourable Members of the Executive Council:

This is an eleventh hour appeal by numerous media organisations* to request amendments to the proposed Article 23 national security legislation.

While we remain concerned about a wider range of issues contained in this legislation and have individually expressed these concerns in previous

submissions, we now make an urgent appeal for a review of those items we regard as most damaging to press freedom and most likely to undermine the provisions of Article 27 of the Basic Law.

Three matters demand urgent attention and should be deleted from the legislation:

1. The new proposed offence of unauthorised and damaging disclosure of information

This new offence raises the possibility that someone could be prosecuted solely for possessing so-called unauthorized information, regardless of whether the information itself poses a threat to national security. Furthermore, by prohibiting "unauthorised information" that is obtained, even indirectly, means no journalist could use it safely without meeting an unrealistic standard of proof, i.e. that there was "no reasonable cause to believe" any material may have come from a protected or unauthorised source.

2. The creation of a proposed new class of protected information regarding relations between the central authorities and the HKSAR.

Not only is the wording of this new category too imprecise, which in itself could lead to self-censorship, but it also subjects journalists to possible prosecution for disclosure of information that is of legitimate concern to Hong Kong people, such as that related to public health in mainland China. Also, the fact the definition of protected information is limited to "information concerning the HKSAR" does not allow for the larger fact that Hong Kong is "within the responsibility of the Central Government." As such, numerous issues on the mainland concern Hong Kong people -- and not always directly.

3. The proposed new offence of handling seditious publications

This proposed offence threatens the largest possible number of people engaged in the media industry with unwarranted prosecution. Like other objectionable clauses in the bill, the wording is sufficiently vague as to encourage self-censorship, especially by printers and retailers who might be afraid that they unknowingly would be handling seditious material.

In addition to the deletions suggested above, we urge you to add to the bill a "defence of public interest" clause.

Such a clause would signal to the world at large the government's commitment to an open society and allay suspicions that the new law's purpose is to minimize criticism of public policy and prevent the free flow of information in the public interest.

We ask you, as a matter of urgency, to consider this submission. We do so while reminding members of the Council that as citizens and residents of Hong Kong and as members of organisations entrusted with facilitating communication between the SAR and the world, we still have other far-reaching and serious concerns about this legislation. And though we have not raised them again today we believe they must be addressed before the legislation becomes law.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Hong Kong
The Hong Kong Journalists Association
The Society of Publishers in Asia
Hong Kong PEN
The Overseas Press Club of America

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