Anti-sedition law - good sense has been subverted

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 December, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 December, 2002, 12:00am

The Hong Kong government's proposed Article 23 is misconceived and the whole affair has been mishandled.

The central government no longer likes to call itself a 'dictatorship', but still it runs a one-party state and any opposition to control by that one party can be and is deemed to be subversive. Hong Kong, by contrast, prides itself on allowing not only open and vocal opposition to government policies, but also the freedom to question the very legitimacy of its government. The 'one country' principle would seem to require following Beijing's rules by keeping quiet about national affairs.

The 'two systems' principle would allow Hong Kong people to continue to express themselves freely about the SAR's affairs. That dividing line would be difficult if not impossible to keep with Article 23.

The best way to solve the contradiction would have been to ignore it. 'Subversion' should have been defined in the narrowest possible terms as attempting to overturn the state by violence or means universally acknowledged to be criminal. Exemption from the charge of subversion should have been defined as broadly as possible, for example, endorsing the rights to comment, demonstrate, hold and pass information, practise religion and withdrawing labour. Few people in the SAR would have objected to such an approach.

Instead, the government has proposed offences which are very vague and broad in scope, justifying them by comparison with similar laws in established democracies, without noticing they have been 'dead letters' for over half a century. It also deputed as its chief advocate of the proposed legislation Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee who has given short shrift to objections. Our policy secretaries say they can be trusted to do the right thing. However, their political lives are limited, but Article 23 will be on the statute books permanently.

The last fall-back position of the government is that amendments to its proposed laws can be made by the Legislative Council and freedoms will be safeguarded by the courts.

On the first point, the record shows that what the government wants from Legco, it gets. On the second point, why make things difficult for the courts by giving them dubious and controversial laws to interpret, when they can be presented with laws that are plain and command common consent?

No doubt there are intelligent people in the government ranks, but good sense has been 'subverted' in this case by a curious mixture of timidity and obstinacy.


Tai Po