HK needs laws to protect national security by Secretary for Security, Mrs Regina Ip
Is freedom of expression and association under threat in Hong Kong? This lies at the heart of much debate over the Hong Kong SAR Government's proposals, published this week, to enact laws on crimes that endanger national security.
First let me state categorically that the basic freedoms and rights of Hong Kong people will not be compromised.
We have made sure that our proposals on Article 23 of our Basic Law comply with well-established common-law and international human rights principles. All laws enacted in Hong Kong are justiciable by independent Hong Kong courts, in accordance with common law and international human rights jurisprudence.
Some people argue that Hong Kong does not need to act on Article 23, which covers offences against national security.
This overlooks two facts:
Firstly, all countries have laws to protect national security but, in Hong Kong, the Mainland's national laws on this subject do not apply. It has been left up to the Hong Kong SAR Government to enact laws 'on its own'. This in itself shows a great measure of trust in Hong Kong people by the Central Government authorities. We are not introducing Mainland law into Hong Kong. We are developing our own approach. Can you imagine California or Connecticut enacting their own laws against treasonous acts or foreign organizations bent on the overthrow of the US Government?
Secondly, we have a constitutional and legal obligation, under our Basic Law, to enact such laws. By doing so, we fulfill our role to implement 'One Country, Two Systems'. Five years after Reunification, it is time to move ahead on a matter that is regarded as extremely important by our sovereign. By doing so, we will remove once and for all the uncertainties that have cropped up from time to time over the past five years as to when, and in what form, Article 23 will be implemented.
We also have a moral duty, as a Special Administrative Region of China, to protect the security and sovereignty of our country. Why should Hong Kong people be under any less obligation to do so, or indeed feel uncomfortable in doing so, compared to citizens in other countries?
In releasing proposals on Article 23, we expressed the sincere hope for a reasoned and dispassionate discussion and consultation on the issue over the next three months. We know that this is a sensitive topic and one that will come under intense scrutiny in Hong Kong and internationally. As with all open and transparent governments, we have put out our proposals in detail for public debate. These discussions and debates will no doubt be covered fully by the local and international media.
Our proposals have met with a good measure of support. Some have praised our proposals as reasonable and moderate. But criticisms have also been aired, much of which based on the spurious grounds of 'what if' doomsday scenarios, and a flawed understanding of what has actually been put forward.
Such unbalanced assessments point to a rather paranoid view of the world and do nothing to further debate on the issue. They also paint an overly pessimistic and untrue picture of the intentions of the Hong Kong SAR Government, which is acutely aware that the free flow of information and expression of views is vital to our continued development as an international business and trading centre. We have an unflinching intention to protect these rights and freedoms.
Many of the proposals draw on existing laws that will be modernized and narrowed considerably in scope so that, in most cases, violence, or the threat of violence, or grave criminal conduct is required before an offence is committed.
For example, the proposals relating to foreign political organizations use existing definitions under the Societies Ordinance.
They criminalize only those activities that truly endanger the security of the state, that is, activities that involve the commission of treason, secession, sedition, subversion or the theft of state secrets. Further, an organization can only be banned in circumstances permitted under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In addition, checks and balances have been added that provide a two-tier review of a decision that proscribes and declares an organization unlawful. The proposed appeal mechanism does not exist under current laws, and is an added safeguard to protect the legitimate rights of organizations in Hong Kong.
Some of those now criticizing the proposals have often been quick in the past to predict the erosion of Hong Kong's civil liberties and economic freedoms.
Five years after Reunification, these dire forecasts have been proved wrong. The US State Department, the US House of Representatives, the UK Government and the European Commission have all published regular reports since 1997 noting the smooth and successful implementation of 'One Country, Two Systems' and the protection of the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong people.
The proposals we have put forward will not have any adverse impact on freedom of expression, or freedom of the press, as they are currently enjoyed.
If areas of concern are raised by the community during the consultation period, we will pay attention. For after all, we share a common goal with the citizens of Hong Kong and our international supporters to preserve the freedom of expression in Hong Kong. And by working together in a calm and rational manner we can achieve that goal.