Hong Kong has unveiled details of new anti-subversion legislation that could broaden the government's investigative powers over crimes against the state. But critics fear the laws could be used to stifle basic freedoms and civil liberties.
Hong Kong's government on Tuesday presented draft legislation against treason, secession, sedition, subversion, and espionage.
The territory's Secretary for Security Regina Ip says the government will allow the public to comment on the legislation for three months before it goes to the Legislative Council for a vote. The new laws will fall under Article 23 of the Basic Law, the mini-constitution of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR).
Ms. Ip said, "Article 23 imposes a duty on the SAR government to enact laws on its own to prohibit seven activities, which broadly come under the genre of offenses against the state."
Beijing insisted that Article 23 be inserted into the Basic Law before Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty after more than 150 years as a British colony.
Many local lawmakers, however, argue that Hong Kong's security laws already protect the territory from crimes against the state. They say anti-subversion laws could be used to silence dissenting voices or outlaw groups Beijing does not like.
Hong Kong's constitution guarantees a wide range of civil liberties not granted in mainland China.
Rights watchdogs worry that organizations supporting Taiwan independence, democracy in China and the religious group Falun Gong could be charged under anti-subversion laws. Such groups are banned in China. In addition, the Roman Catholic Church in Hong Kong has expressed concern about Article 23, because it also is banned in the mainland.
"When we have a Hong Kong organization, which is affiliated with the mainland organization (and) has been prohibited by mainland authorities in accordance with mainland laws on national security grounds; then I could proceed to prohibit this local organization," Ms. Ip said.
She says that groups banned in the mainland would not necessarily be illegal in Hong Kong. She also pledges that any group facing a ban would be able to fight the move in a court of law.
China's foreign ministry spokeswoman said Tuesday the legislation would bring Hong Kong into accordance with general international practice. She also reiterated Beijing's position that the laws are crucial and necessary to protect Hong Kong and China.