Hong Kong's Ominous "Anti-Subversion" Law Faces Broad-based Opposition
Hong Kong People Respond to Threat of Article 23 with a Chorus of "We Shall Overcome"
NEW YORK, December 16, 2002 (Falun Dafa Information Center) — 60,000 people marching through the streets, as a chorus of “We Shall Overcome” filled the air — it was not your typical day in Hong Kong.
The BBC calls Hong Kong’s proposed Article 23, “the most controversial issue to confront Hong Kong since the territory was returned to China five years ago,” and yesterday tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents made their concerns known in no uncertain terms as they took to the streets in what Reuters called “one of the territory’s biggest marches in years.”
The previous day, large-scale demonstrations were held in Los Angeles, Washington DC, Vancouver, Toronto, and Dresden, Germany, to rally support for stopping Article 23 in Hong Kong, which is widely viewed as a channel for importing totalitarian-like methods from Beijing to control to territory.
The governments of the United States and Britain had recently expressed serious concerns over the proposed laws, and what they could mean for human rights and civil liberties in the territory — concerns that were, according to a Dec 10 Reuters report, disregarded by Chinese officials. “As for Britain and the United States expressing their concerns, it’s no business of theirs,” the Reuters report quoted Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen before attending a meeting with Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa in Beijing.
According to a Dec 4 report by AFP, some banks in Hong Kong were even considering relocating if the proposed Article 23 is passed.
Hong Kong’s Article 23
On September 24, 2002, at the instigation of the Chinese Government, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) released proposals for controversial legislation to severely punish anything Beijing considers to be seditious, subversive or a threat to Mainland security. However, the definition of precisely what activity would fit into these categories is disturbingly vague. Consequently, a diverse range of interest groups from financiers to Falun Gong, from the Hong Kong Bar Association to trade unionists, from democrats to journalists, are all alarmed that Article 23 could seriously undermine the basic civil liberties that Hong Kong has traditionally enjoyed.
The document was issued at the start of a three-month public consultation period, which ends on Christmas Eve. The Basic Law — Hong Kong’s “mini-constitution” which has governed the territory since its 1997 return to Chinese sovereignty – required an anti-subversion bill to be passed under Article 23. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Tung Chee-hwa, said that the planned law was necessary to ensure national security. The government, however, was aware of the disquiet it would cause in the sensitive years following the territory’s hand-over and delayed its proposal until pressure from the Mainland could no longer be resisted
At risk are the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, expression, association and the right to peaceful assembly, the London-based human rights organization Amnesty International said in a statement. The organization went on to say that: “As they stand, the proposals go far beyond what is needed to implement Article 23 of the Basic Law and may increase restrictions on fundamental human rights…(and)…there is a danger that those exercising these rights could be imprisoned as prisoners of conscience.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has said Article 23 would present a “…grave threat to freedom of expression in Hong Kong (and) if enacted, this legislation will send a clear message to Hong Kong journalists that coverage of sensitive issues, especially Chinese politics, will no longer be encouraged or even tolerated.”
The Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF – Reporters Without Borders) and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also both warned that the proposed legislation would restrict press freedom. The Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents, Club and the World Association of Newspapers have expressed “vehement opposition” to the proposed laws, warning that all permanent residents, including foreign nationals, would be liable for prosecution for what they say or write either inside or outside the territory. New Zealand Justice Minister Phil Goff has also voiced concern about the possibility of Hong Kong permanent residents, who are also foreign nationals, being charged with sedition for comments made whilst in another country.
On December 9, the Hong Kong Bar Association said the proposals were “…based upon feudal notions of treason,” that are not clear or precise enough to protect fundamental rights and freedoms. The proposal for outlawing secession “…fails to recognize the possibility of a secessionist cause being a legitimate political demand in the form of an exercise by a people of the right to self-determination.”
Banker David Li, who represents the banking industry in the Legislative Council (and who is a director of Dow Jones), told the American Chamber of Commerce in early December that executives from more than 10 foreign banks hoped the Hong Kong government would spell out the exact wording of the proposals. He said banks were worried about their potential to stifle the free flow of information here.
Details of Article 23 Remain Hidden
Indeed it is the ill-defined nature of Article 23 that is most worrying. The government waited five years before acting in a real hurry. Despite circulating vague proposals, it has issued no formal “white paper” with the exact language of the draft laws. “We’ve not seen in black and white how the legislation will be drafted,” remarked Anson Chan, the former head of the civil service and No. 2 to Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa and former Governor Chris Patten. “The devil is in the detail.”
Hong Kong lawyer Audrey Eu, a former head of the Hong Kong Bar Association, believes the worst aspect of the new law would be “a bridge for extending the mainland system to Hong Kong. Once the [Chinese] government has banned an organization on national security grounds, it is difficult to expect Hong Kong authorities or Hong Kong courts to contend a different view.”
Hong Kong guarantees freedom of religion and the Falun Gong spiritual movement can operate despite being banned on the mainland. But suppose China banned a religion on national security grounds. In the clash of freedom over national security, probably few would bet on freedom winning the day in Hong Kong.
Falun Gong and Other Groups Targeted
Many suggest that the whole raison d’etre for suddenly rushing through this legislation is precisely to give the Chinese President, Jiang Zemin, a new weapon in his irrational war against Falun Gong. The recently appointed Catholic Bishop for Hong Kong, Joseph Zen, has said the regulations currently being drawn up threaten Falun Gong’s freedom to practice in the territory.
But Bishop Zen is also concerned about the future of the Catholic Church. The Vatican has relations with Taiwan, not Beijing. It also has links with an estimated 10 million members of the underground Catholic Church inside China. That might be grounds enough for it to be banned too. “If tomorrow they say the underground church in China is dangerous for the State and then they say you are the same Catholic Church,… then we are in trouble,” said Bishop Zen.
“An attack on freedom anywhere in the world undermines that freedom everywhere else,” comments Ms. Sophie Xiao, a spokeswoman for Falun Gong in Hong Kong echoing sentiments immortalized by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “If enough voices are raised in opposition to Article 23 it can be stopped. If not then the territory’s days as ‘Pearl of the Orient’ appear to be numbered.”