Monday, February 17, 2003

Hong Kong: Judging by Beijing's standards.

Date: Monday 17 February 2003
Subj: Hong Kong: Judging by Beijing's standards.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


In September 2002, the Hong Kong government signalled it would move towards enacting controversial anti-subversion legislation. For a full report on the gradual erosion of freedom in Hong Kong, see a previous WEA RLC report entitled: "Tracking freedom in Hong Kong" 19 September 2002.

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UNVEILING ARTICLE 23

The high level of anxiety over the anti-subversion law known as Article 23, comes from the fact that it is the National People's Congress in Beijing that has the final word on all matters pertaining to constitutional issues and the interpretation of Basic Law in Hong Kong. Article 23 therefore puts Hong Kong's autonomy under threat by opening a door through which mainland China's legal principles can be imported into Hong Kong. This seriously threatens the "one country, two systems" structure. Most political analysts believe that religious and pro-democracy or rights groups will be most at risk from the anti-subversion legislation.

After five months of consultations, deliberations and debates, the government of Hong Kong has now released their blue bill on Article 23. The security secretary of Hong Kong administration, Regina Ip, said the proposed bill would be introduced into the legislative council before the end of this month. The Hong Kong government wants the legislation passed by July 2003.

BANNED IN BEIJING - BANNED IN HONG KONG

The most controversial element of the legislation is the provision that decrees the banning of any Hong Kong group that receives funds, direction or leadership from a group that is outlawed by Beijing. Article 23 will therefore threaten all religious groups outlawed in mainland China.

On Friday 14 February 2003, the South China Morning Post published an analysis by Chris Yeung entitled, "Now we will have a clearer picture of the price to pay for upholding national security." Yeung expressed the fear that the "one country, two systems" structure is under threat.

"Despite the improvements to the original proposals, the anti-subversion bill announced yesterday (13 Feb) has demonstrated the impossible task of reconciling conflicts between safeguarding national security and preserving civil liberties.

"As a senior official admitted privately, it is politically impossible for the SAR (Special Autonomous Region - HK) not to act over a local group if it has clear links with one that is outlawed across the border.

"Regardless of efforts to avoid abuses of such power in Hong Kong, the political imperative of providing a system to trigger the process of banning organisations will blur the two systems."

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

On 15 February, South China Morning Post published an article entitled, "New rule allowing closed-door court appeals attacked," by Jimmy Cheung. According to this article, when appeals are brought by organisations that have been banned under the proposed national security laws, those appeals may go ahead behind closed doors in the absence of group leaders and their legal representatives.

Prominent Hong Kong lawyers are protesting that this would actually breach the Basic Law, in particular Article 35, which guarantees the right to representation before the courts.

"The blue bill made public on Thursday allows such appeals to be taken to court, rather than the special tribunals that were originally proposed. But it also empowers the chief justice to make rules that provide for some cases to be held behind closed doors, and for those bringing the appeal to be barred from the hearing if necessary. These rules could also see the legal representatives of the organisations banned from the court."

South China Morning Post (SCMP) quoted former chairman of the Bar Association, Alan Leong Kah-kit, as saying "One can't even have access to what evidence the prosecution side has given. This is something that Hong Kong has never heard of."

On 16 October 2002 the SCMP quoted Leong as saying "This (Article 23) is a very dangerous hole drilled in the wall that separates the two systems." (SCMP. "Lawyers identify deep flaws in Article 23." By Cliff Buddle. 16 Oct 2002)

BISHOP ZEN

As a bishop in a church that is banned in mainland China, Hong Kong's Catholic Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun is a vocal opponent of Article 23. He has labelled it "not acceptable" and "undemocratic".

In his Christmas message, Bishop Zen said, "We are living through a difficult time in our history. Prosperity seems to be a distant memory. Let us not surrender to the situation but work together to improve it. By sharing our difficulties they become smaller; by sharing our joy, it grows."

"An unjust situation made stable by oppressive structures is not peace but a state of violence. The prophets of God try to awaken the conscience of people by destroying false peace in order to correct an unjust situation." (SCMP "Bishop Zen warns of tough times ahead." 24 Dec 2002)

- Elizabeth Kendal

Articles

CNN "HK unveils controversial security law." 13 Feb 2003
http://asia.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/asiapcf/east/02/13/hk.law.reut/index.
html

"Bill targets subversives." By Bill Spencer in Hong Kong 15 Feb 2003
http://theage.com.au/text/articles/2003/02/14/1044927798161.htm