Redirected from Article 23
Hong Kong Basic Law Article 23 is the basis (parent statute) of a security law currently being proposed by the Hong Kong Government. On September 24, 2002 the government released its proposals for the anti-subversion law. It is the cause of considerable controversy and division in Hong Kong, which operates as a separate legal system in accordance with the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
Under British rule, Hong Kong had a number of draconian laws regarding national security, which among other things allowed the Hong Kong government to ban organizations, which it did in regard to both the Communist Party of China and the Kuomintang. Although these laws had rarely been enforced since the 1960's, there was concern about the possible use of those laws after the handover to China.
Article 23 of the Hong Kong Basic Law stipulates that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall enact laws on its own to protect national security. At the time of the drafting of the Basic Law this was intended to be protective of civil rights in that in placed responsiblity for drafting these laws with the Hong Kong government.
The Hong Kong Government has drafted the National Security (Legislative Provisions) Bill to implement Article 23 and replace British colonial era laws on the subject.
Concern with the legislation has arisen because of the authoritarian regime in the People's Republic of China: the new law invokes concepts of "treason" against the PRC in certain circumstances. Critics claim that this will erode freedom of speech rights. Suspicions have been exacerbated by the refusal of the government to issue a White Bill[?] on the legislation, causing groups such as Amnesty International to declare that it "has grave concerns about the proposals in the government's consultation document and the lack of a draft White Bill which means that the public still do not know how the legislation will actually be worded". The government will be required to issue a blue paper[?] containing the draft legislation when it presents the new bill to the Hong Kong Legislative Council[?] ("Legco"), but this would leave no time for the public to voice its concerns, and the government may use its unelected majority in Legco to rush the bill through.
In the consultation document of Article 23 enactment, the following issues have caused concern:
Supporters of the legislation, the most vocal of which is Hong Kong's Secretary for Security Regina Ip[?] view the introduction of the law as being quite ordinary and natural:
Mrs. Ip has been criticised by the press and religious groups for her zealousness in pursuing the implementation of the legislation. In a politically clumsy move, Mrs. Ip asserted that because the ordinary people would not understand the legal language, there was no point in consulting them on it - in other words, because a few may not comprehend, let's keep everyone in the dark. This comment illustrates the extent to which authoritarian reflexes have become the natural habit of Hong Kong's unelected ruling elite.
Mr Bob Allcock, Hong Kong's Solicitor-General[?], has been perceived as more even handed in his approach and has frequently argued that the laws proposed by the government are less restrictive than the colonial era laws that they are intended to replace
He has also pointed out that under the new laws, a banned organization can appeal the ban to the judicial system, a right not available under the previous laws.
In response opponents of the bill including Martin Lee[?] have argued that a potentially repressive bill is more acceptable in a system of parliamentary democracy and under British rule, the potential impact of security laws were minimized by the fact that the sovereign was a parliamentary democracy in which the political leaders would suffer political damage if they attempted to enforce these laws. The argument is that because the sovereign in the case of Hong Kong is authoritarian, there are fewer restrictions which prevent them from using badly drafted laws.
Journalists in particular are concerned about the new law, especially in respect of journalistic criticism of the Central Government of the People's Republic of China and its relationship with Taiwan, Tibetan secession, or other matters arising from the possession of official documents.
Religious groups are equally apprehensive about the law. The Falun Gong cult, which has been the subject of political repression in Mainland China(including the torture and detention of its members) on the basis of "security concerns" is worried that Article 23 will allow such political repression will extend to Hong Kong if the Falun Gong are regarded by Hong Kong authorities as a threat to the motherland.
Outspoken Catholic Bishop Zen[?] has been a key figure in the debate over the legislation: on 15 May 2003 he instructed his church members to resist the introduction of the legislation. But his speech was critisized by some pro-PRC political commentators in Hong Kong, saying that the church should not be involved in political matters.
The normally neutral Hong Kong Bar Association (the organisation representing barristers) has also stepped into the fray: Bar Association chairman Alan Leong Kah-kit has publicly said, "The more you read into this document, the more anxious and concerned you get. There are some glaring ambiguities." Other organisations which have spoken out against the proposal include the Hong Kong Journalists Association, Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, the Foreign Correspondents Club and the Faculty of Law at Hong Kong University[?]. Members of the European Parliament, and officials of the United States Department of State, the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand have expressed concerns about the Article 23 legislation.
Some banks in Hong Kong were reported to be considering relocating if the proposed Article 23 is passed, out of the fear that the laws would restrict the free flow of information. On December 7, 2002, it was reported in the press that ten foreign banks had told the government privately that the introduction of Article 23 would have disastrous consequences for Hong Kong, threatening its demise as Asia's financial capital.
On July 1, 2003, approximately 200,000 - 500,000 people demonstrated against Article 23, against the failing economy, and against Tung Chee Hwa, by marching from Victoria Park[?], Causeway Bay to Central Government Offices in Central. In response to the demonstration, two of the pro-government parties in the Legislative Council expressed reservations about the bill, and informal polls of the Legislative Council delegates suggested that the ability of the government to pass the bill was in doubt. On July 5, 2003 Tung Chee Hwa announced that he intended to have a vote on a modified security law, which would remove the ability of the police to conduct warrantless searches, reduce the ability of the government to ban organizations, and include a public interest exemption for releasing state secrets.
On July 6, 2003 Tung Chee Hwa announced that the second reading of the Law was to be postponed after James Tien[?] of the Liberal Party announced that he was resigning from the Executive Council and would have his party members vote for a postponement. As a result, the government would have insufficient votes to pass the law.
At a time when Hong Kong's economy, inextricably linked to its property index, is in the doldrums, and SARS has had a major impact on life in the Special Administrative Region, the Government's focus on Article 23 has been perceived as inappropriate, especially since Hong Kong has been a stable place since the 1997 handover from the United Kingdom to the PRC not requiring revision of colonial anti-subversion laws.