AFP: Media groups warn Hong Kong anti-subversion law would muzzle free speech

Wednesday, 20-Nov-2002

HONG KONG, Nov 20 (AFP) - The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) on Wednesday expressed vehement opposition to Hong Kong's proposed anti-subversion law and warned it could have a "chilling" effect on freedom of expression.

In strongly worded letters to Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa and Security Secretary Regina Ip, the Paris-based WAN said residents and news organisations in the territory could be strictly muzzled by the proposal.

The regulations "will give excessive weight to national security at the expense of civil liberties, especially press freedom and freedom of speech," the group said in a statement.

"The proposed Article 23 provisions (would) allow for all permanent residents, including foreign nationals, to be prosecuted for what they say in and outside of Hong Kong," it added.

They "would have a chilling effect on all individuals, groups and enterprises engaged in the business of information exchange," it said.


But WAN's call to abandon the new law was joined earlier by the city's Foreign Correspondents' Club (FCC).

The club said in its own letter that it objects to the introduction of mainland China's broad notions of national security and state secrets which could open up reporters to prosecution for normal journalistic activities.

It said the proposed law would damage "Hong Kong's reputation for free-flowing information and possibly spark an exodus of journalists and news organisations, among other dire effects on the territory."

Agence France-Presse is among the international news organisations with Asia-Pacific regional headquarters in Hong Kong.

FCC said the law could increase "government's power to restrict the flow of information without a corresponding statutory right to access information," while at the same time "placing the onus on reporters to determine whether
or not information they obtain has been legally disseminated."

"We suggest that rather than introduce the law described in the consultation document, the government update and narrow Hong Kong's current and far too broad laws on these matters," FCC said.

The controversial legislation -- which opponents say is being rammed through at China's behest -- is due to be enacted after a three-month consultation exercise ends December 24.

Under Article 23 of the Basic Law, the territory's post-1997 mini-constitution, Hong Kong is obliged to pass laws banning treason, sedition, subversion and theft of state secrets.

Violators would be subject to as much as seven years in jail, WAN said.

But human-rights and pro-democracy groups fear that China could use the new law to suppress freedoms including those of media, speech and religion, as well as to ban groups it considers a threat.

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