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Thousands Protest Hong Kong Security Laws - 2002-12-15

Thousands of demonstrators gathered in Hong Kong to protest new security laws. Civil, political, and religious groups joined in the march demanding that the government release a detailed draft of the planned laws.

Several thousand people gathered for the biggest display of public concern since the Hong Kong government proposed the legislation in September. The new laws would create new crimes of treason, sedition, subversion and secession.

Members of the Roman Catholic Church sang hymns during protest rally and march. Like members of other religious groups banned in mainland China, Hong Kong Catholics are worried the proposed laws could restrict basic freedoms, including freedom of religion and assembly. The Roman Catholic Church is banned in China.

"We are now trying to voice our opinion before it is too late," said one of the Catholic participants. "These kinds of enactments restrict peoples' human rights, basic human rights. We want to get a collection of ideas and get more specific rules of what the government can and cannot do."

Under Article 23 of Hong Kong's constitution, the local government must introduce anti-sedition laws. Observers say the administration is under pressure from Beijing to push ahead with the legislation.

A number of legal experts in the territory say groups associated with organizations banned in China could be seen as a "national security risk" under the new laws and face criminal charges. They say the proposed laws are vague and unnecessary.

Many protesters on Sunday called on the government to drop plans to introduce the laws altogether. Others demanded that the government release the exact wording of the legislation, and eliminate vague areas that could be used against groups Beijing dislikes.

Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 after 150 years of British rule. Since then the territory has been governed under a one country, two systems policy that allows Hong Kong to maintain its legal and economic system as well as civil liberties not enjoyed in mainland China.

The Hong Kong government says the security laws will not interfere in the territory's way of life or curtail freedoms.