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Thousands Rally for Hong Kong National Security Laws - 2002-12-22

Thousands of people rallied in Hong Kong in support of proposed national security laws, one week after a large demonstration by opponents of the new laws.

Organizers of Sunday's rally say the turnout shows that many Hong Kong residents realize everyone must support national security.

The government's proposed legislation creates new offenses of treason, sedition and secession, and imposes harsh penalties. Under Article 23 of its constitution, Hong Kong must adopt such laws.

Opponents of the legislation say the proposals are too vague and sweeping. They say the laws would endanger Hong Kong's civil liberties, including freedom of the press and religion. Some participants at the rally say the critics are overly sensitive and miss the point of the legislation. Supporters say it aims merely to protect China from those who wish to hurt the country and will not curtail individual freedoms.

Ma Lik is a senior official in the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, a pro-Beijing political party, and says Hong Kong's constitution, known as the Basic Law, protects the city's freedoms. He says, however, the Basic Law requires Hong Kong to pass laws to protect national security.

The rally participants included school groups, political leaders, and pro-Beijing labor unions. The organizers estimated that as many as 40,000 people attended, but observers say the number was much smaller, below 20,000.

Mr. Ma says the rally was smaller than last week's demonstration protesting the laws. Organizers of that demonstration and observers say about 60,000 people took part.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese control in 1997 after more than 150 years as a British colony. The city has great autonomy and enjoys many freedoms, such as a free press, that are not permitted in the rest of China.