AFP (Agence France-Press): Hong Kong security law jeopardises freedoms

Tuesday, 10-Dec-2002

HONG KONG, Dec 10 (AFP) - Human rights and press groups condemned Tuesday proposed new security laws in Hong Kong charging that they would jeopardise fundamental freedoms in the territory.

At risk are the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; the right to freedom of expression; and the right to peaceful assembly and to freedom of association, the London-based human rights organisation Amnesty International said in a statement.

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 the freedom of journalists here.

Article 23 of the Basic Law, the former British colony's mini-constitution since it reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, obliges Hong Kong to pass laws banning treason, sedition, subversion and theft of state secrets.

There has been an outpouring of concern that the proposed new laws could curtail freedoms in the territory.

"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," Amnesty said.

"There is a danger that those exercising these rights could be imprisoned as prisoners of conscience."

The human rights body urged the government to reconsider some proposals and tightly define the wording of offences.

"All proposed offences must be tightly defined and must specifically exclude the possibility of peaceful protests falling into the definition of these crimes."

Meanwhile, Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) expressed concern about the future of press freedom in Hong Kong and called on the European Union to oppose it.

"This measure would endanger the freedom of journalists to report independently about Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and Tibet," said RSF secretary general Robert Menard.

"The EU must speak out against it at once," he said in letters addressed to Danish foreign minister Stig Moller, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, and EU external relations commissioner, Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong.

"It defines state secrets very vaguely and could lead to the arrest of journalists for putting out news later described as state secrets" as had happened to Chinese journalist Wu Shishen in 1993, RSF said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also said the controversial new legislation would present a "grave threat to freedom of expression in Hong Kong".

"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," said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper.

The group said China was the world's leading jailer of journalists, with 36 currently in prison, most being held on subversion or state secrets charges.

The CPJ and Amnesty urged the administration to make public draft legislation.

The government has issued only a vague outline of the laws so far and many groups have urged the territory to release a white paper providing all the details.


The legislation is due to be enacted after a three-month consultation exercise ends December 24.

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