Legislators fear new treason law may contain traps for the unwary

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 January, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 January, 2003, 12:00am

Concerns that people may unwittingly commit treason under the new national security laws have prompted the government to consider whether exemptions should be introduced.

Legislators yesterday suggested that in times of war, a permanent resident who supplies money to his wife might fall foul of the law if she is a national of a country in conflict with China.

The proposed legislation might also trap a permanent resident who is a foreign national and pays taxes to his home country or does business with it, it was argued.

Part of the proposed definition of treason is to provide assistance 'by any means' to an enemy at war with the People's Republic of China. Legislators believed the definition and scope of the proposed law was unclear.

Johann Wong Chung-yan, Principal Assistant Secretary for Security, said the definition was no different from that in common law countries. Under the common law, it would be an offence to trade with the enemy country at war with one's own nation, he said.

However, he said the government could consider defining the provision more clearly.

'If [you] can think of any exceptions, such as supporting the wife [who is a foreign national] financially, which should be exempted, we will consider it if it is raised,' he said.

Democrat legislator Cheung Man-kwong said it should not be left to the public to raise possible exemptions. 'It is very dangerous to ask the public to think about what could constitute the exemptions in their daily life,' he said.

'Members of the public are not script writers. They may not have read the legislation and you are asking them to think about the exceptions. Don't you find it ridiculous?'

Timothy Tong Hin-ming, acting Permanent Secretary for Security, said the treason laws would not affect people's daily lives.

The Security Bureau this month will announce the summary of views received during the consultation period. A blue bill is expected to be submitted to the Legislative Council next month.