Article 23 exclusion on the cards for foreign nationals

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 November, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 November, 2002, 12:00am

Foreign nationals in Hong Kong could be excluded from anti-subversion laws under a proposed change to Article 23 designed to allay growing international concerns.

Officials are considering allowing foreign nationals to give up their SAR permanent residency in the event of them having to pledge allegiance to their own country under special circumstances, such as when the country in question is at war with China.

Proposals released by the government in September state that permanent residents would be liable to prosecution for crimes such as treason, secession and subversion, even if committed outside Hong Kong.

This has raised widespread concerns among foreign diplomats that their citizens in Hong Kong could be affected. The new proposal would mean foreign nationals would not be liable for the offences if they had given up their SAR permanent residency.

Adeline Wan Ping-siu, a Department of Justice senior counsel, said: 'We are considering introducing a mechanism for foreigners to relinquish the status of permanent residency. This is because we understand that they have to pledge allegiance to their own country.'

Under existing laws, foreign nationals lose the legal status of permanent residency if they are away 36 months continuously without a reasonable explanation.

But Hong Kong Chinese permanent residents with foreign passports would not be affected by such rules if they had not declared their foreign nationality to the authorities. They would be treated as Chinese nationals.

Bar Association chairman Alan Leong Kah-kit, SC, said that the legislation should be restricted to Chinese nationals in Hong Kong.

'Hong Kong people who have emigrated to foreign countries should be allowed to relinquish their permanent residency if there is the need,' he said.

A spokeswoman of the Department of Justice said the special mechanism was designed because many expatriates had expressed their worries.

The British Consulate-General, while not commenting on the possible amendment specifically, said in a statement: 'We welcome indications that the SAR government is willing in principle to be flexible on at least some of the areas of concern.'