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Human Rights Groups Concerned New Hong Kong Law Will Erode Freedoms - 2002-12-10

Two international human rights watchdogs have voiced concerns that a planned new anti-subversion law will curtail press freedom and other civil liberties in Hong Kong. A top Chinese official also says foreign countries have no say in the issue.

Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen on Tuesday brushed aside concerns raised by the United States and Britain on Hong Kong's proposed anti-subversion laws.

Mr. Qian says Britain and the United States can say what they want, but it is none of their business.

The proposed legislation fulfills Article 23 of Hong Kong's constitution, known as the Basic Law. Article 23 calls on the local government to outlaw treason, sedition, secession and subversion.

Earlier Tuesday, the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists said the planned laws send "a clear message" to Hong Kong reporters to avoid covering issues Beijing deems politically sensitive.

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International warned the proposed bill could restrict fundamental rights, such as the freedom of association. The group warns the government could abuse the laws.

Both groups say it appears the proposed legislation goes beyond the requirements of Article 23. They also call for the Hong Kong government to release a full draft of the legislation; so far, that has not been done.

Many Hong Kong politicians, academics, bankers and legal experts have voiced similar worries.

Government officials, however, say the proposed laws will do little to change Hong Kong's way of life. They say much of the legislation simply updates antiquated laws imposed during British colonial rule, which ended in 1997.

Yeung Sum, the head of Hong Kong's pro-democracy party, disagrees. "If the law is activated in Hong Kong we will have a lot of worry about press freedom, academic freedom or even religious freedom and even freedom of assembly," Mr. Yeung said.

Other citizens and legislators have expressed concern the legislation allow the Hong Kong government to ban organizations the mainland considers national security threats. One such organization is the Roman Catholic Church, illegal in mainland China, but prominent in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, but it is locally governed, and remains a capitalist enclave, with freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland.