Concern group kicks off campaign with a warning over official secrets
A concern group opposed to the proposed anti-subversion laws kicked off its campaign yesterday by distributing pamphlets warning of the 'theft of state secrets'.
In the first of seven such publications which will focus on a different part of the proposals, former Bar Association Ronny Tong Ka-wah addressed the sensitive issue of official secrets.
He distributed pamphlets - 30,000 copies have been printed - on the campus of the University of Hong Kong yesterday.
There are five sections in the pamphlet. It states what the government proposes and what the group considers to be wrong with each particular proposal. The pamphlet also states the alternative approach favoured by the concern group and why it thinks the public should strive for this option. The fifth section contains a reply slip which people can send to the Security Bureau.
The government's consultation paper released on September 24 suggests retaining many of the existing laws on official secrets. But it has proposed a new offence of unauthorised and damaging disclosure of protected information.
Mr Tong said the protection of information should not depend simply on where or how it was obtained, but whether it would damage national security.
'It will become almost impossible to tell whether a piece of information is from a prohibited source or not,' Mr Tong said, suggesting that the proposal would curb press freedom.
He said a new category of protected information, concerning relations between the central authorities of China and the SAR, was too broad, and questioned if 'central authorities' would cover local delegates of such bodies.
Mr Tong also said it was not known if the 'interests of the central authorities' - a term used in the proposals to define an aspect of the suggested laws - would be defined by mainland concepts.
The prominent lawyer was worried the new offence would prohibit the disclosure of information which has been legitimately obtained and in circumstances where there is a strong public interest in disclosing it.
'Uncertainty will lead to self-censorship,' he said. 'The proposals will lead to uncertainty, self-censorship and cover-ups.'
He added that release of information in circumstances such as the Watergate scandal or that concerning the development of Aids on the mainland would not be possible if the current proposals were passed into law.
Mr Tong urged the government to produce a white bill allowing public consultation on the precise wording of the proposed laws.