- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 14, 2002

HONG KONG Hong Kong's justice minister said yesterday it was time for the former British colony to enact an anti-subversion law a measure critics fear could crush the freedoms that make the financial powerhouse a vastly different place from mainland China.
Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung said the Hong Kong government has shown no inclination to rush into making the law, which is required under the constitution Hong Kong adopted when it was returned to China five years ago. But after five years as a "special administrative region" of China, the time has come, Miss Leung told reporters outside her office.
Human rights activists said freedoms of speech and press will be severely tested by the law. Many worry that Hong Kong will use it to go after Falun Gong, the meditation sect that has been outlawed as an "evil cult" in mainland China but thus far is allowed to practice and protest in Hong Kong.
"Why do we need it?" asked Martin Lee, head of the Democratic Party and seen as Hong Kong's top opposition figure. "Nobody's clamoring for independence."
Supporters say the law is necessary to prevent Hong Kong from becoming a base for subversion against the mainland's Communist government, which tolerates no political dissent.
The Hong Kong government has sought to calm public worries, insisting that the law will not be used to target individuals or groups and promising a full public consultation before it is enacted.
But many here have their doubts, fearing a further erosion of the civil liberties guaranteed under Hong Kong's unusual government arrangement, dubbed "one country, two systems," that recognizes China's sovereignty while granting considerable local autonomy so Hong Kong can carry on with its freewheeling capitalistic ways.
Several newspapers reported yesterday that under the anti-subversion law, news outlets could be charged with sedition for repeatedly publishing articles attacking the central government or promoting secession from China.
The reports said newspapers, radio and television would be allowed to cover things that might infuriate Beijing, such as remarks from Chen Shui-bian, leader of the Republic of China (Taiwan), on independence, but the repeated reporting of such comments could be an offense.
It "sounds demented," independent lawmaker Margaret Ng said.
"What is something that is not a crime when you do it once, but it is a crime when you do it often enough?" Miss Ng asked. "It could create forbidden topics, the independence movement in Taiwan, the Tibetans and so forth, certain things you cannot talk about and other areas where you have to watch the fine line."
Independence for Taiwan, although it has been governed separately from China since 1949, or for Tibet, are viewed by Beijing as political heresy.
When Hong Kong rejoined China on July 1, 1997, it began operating under a mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, that guarantees its freedoms for at least 50 years.
But pro-democracy figures have long feared the Basic Law's Article 23, which says Hong Kong must "enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the central people's government or theft of state secrets."
Hong Kong sees frequent protests, many calling for democracy in China or an end to Beijing's persecution of Falun Gong, but most are small and peaceful.
"If the law is intended to find those who say things against Beijing guilty, Hong Kong will be no different from any other mainland Chinese city," said Law Yuk-kai, director of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor.
Falun Gong spokesman Kan Hung-cheung said his group could be targeted and warned that "every Hong Kong resident will be affected and face the threat of being persecuted."
Miss Leung urged citizens not to overreact until they had all the facts.
"Don't speculate or guess beforehand, until the information is ready, then everybody can criticize and give suggestions," she said.


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