- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2003

HONG KONG Hong Kong government leaders yesterday announced a scaled-back version of a planned anti-subversion law in a move that appeared intended to appease critics who fear for the territory's freedoms.
"We are being very lenient and we are being very reasonable," Secretary for Security Regina Ip said at a news conference, while repeatedly insisting that the government was not caving in to opponents.
"We are not talking about concessions," Mrs. Ip said. "It is clarification."
Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa told journalists earlier that while most people of Hong Kong accept the need for the legislation, it is being toned down to address concerns about free-press rights in the former British colony.
Hong Kong no longer plans to outlaw possession of seditious materials, and authorities will limit a ban on the theft of state secrets and apply it only in cases where people obtain classified information by hacking computers, stealing or by bribing officials, Mr. Tung said.
Journalists had expressed concerns they could run afoul of the law by getting stories with information that had not been officially released.
"We must allay their fears because we have no intention of undermining press freedom," Mr. Tung said, although he declined to take questions.
Mrs. Ip later outlined other changes.
For instance, treason could only be deemed a crime committed by Chinese nationals who are residents of Hong Kong and not by foreigners, as had been proposed earlier.
People accused of breaking the law could demand a trial by jury, Mrs. Ip said. Groups banned in mainland China could see their Hong Kong chapters banned only if these branches are "subordinate" to the mainland group and acting against national security and not merely if they are "affiliated," Mrs. Ip said.
Opposition lawmaker Cyd Ho said the government seemed to have backed down amid massive public discontent, but added that she would remain skeptical until she sees "the fine print" of the latest plan.
"If people didn't react so strongly these past three months, these clarifications or compromises would not have happened at all," Miss Ho said.
Tens of thousands have protested the law, which has drawn criticism from business leaders and foreign governments, in addition to human rights activists who routinely grumble that Hong Kong's government acts like Beijing's puppet.
Those favoring the law also have turned out in large numbers, questioning the patriotism of the other side in a standoff that some say raises fears of a split in Hong Kong society.
Ever since the territory was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, it has been required under Article 23 of its mini-constitution, the Basic Law, to outlaw subversion, sedition and other crimes against the state.
The government began working on the legislation last year, drawing fire from critics who fear the death of the Western-style civil liberties that Hong Kong has enjoyed as part of China, under a so-called "one country, two systems" government arrangement.


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