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Hong Kong's Anti-Subversion Law To Be Amended - 2003-01-28

The Hong Kong government has announced it is amending a planned anti-subversion law in response to criticism it would limit the territory's basic freedoms. The changes were met with mixed reaction. After a three-month contentious public consultation period, Hong Kong's Secretary of Security Regina Ip announced the government will clarify wording in the anti-subversion bill known here as Article 23.

She told reporters the government had received more than 97,000 submissions from organizations and individuals commenting on the proposed security laws and concerns have been noted.

"They expressed concerns about possible erosion of rights and freedoms in Hong Kong. We have fully considered these views and in the course of further refining our proposals we have tried to take care of their concerns," Ms. Ip said.

Critics have complained the draft legislation was vague and defined treason and sedition too broadly. They say the law could be used to limit press freedom by arbitrarily designating public information as state secrets, to expand police powers, to diminish the role of the courts and to ban groups that mainland Communist China does not like.

In response Ms. Ip outlined the changes, which include: dropping a ban on the possession of seditious publications, clarifying that theft of state secrets would only apply if illegal means were used, such as computer hacking, and giving those accused the right to a court trial. Additionally, the treason charge will not be applied to foreign nationals living in Hong Kong.

Under Hong Kong's constitution, the former British colony was required to pass an anti-subversion law after it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997. The territory enjoys broad freedoms not allowed in the mainland. Beijing has been pressing for the legislation to be passed, worried that Hong Kong could be used to subvert its security.

Some critics say the changes appear to be cosmetic and want another round of consultations for public input. Others say it is hard to judge - since, so far, only an outline of the proposed bill has been put forward and many want to see the exact wording.

The American Chamber of Commerce numbered among the international organizations, which approve of the amendments. James Thompson, head of the chamber in Hong Kong said he is generally pleased.

"It's not the end of the process and I can't say we're delighted with everything but right now it's a huge step in the right direction. Because the American Chamber wrote to the government, we citied specific problems, specific objections and I think just about every one of them was addressed and corrected," he said.

Ms. Ip said the next step will entail handing the proposed legislation over to Hong Kong's law making body where it faces further reviews. Observers say the laws could be in place as soon as July.