Regina Ip defends the government's decision not to apply some concessions demanded by human rights groups

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 January, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 January, 2003, 12:00am

The security chief yesterday dismissed fears that retaining the power to ban Hong Kong groups linked to outlawed mainland counterparts would mean the introduction of mainland standards in the special administrative region (SAR).

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee also defended the government's decision not to adopt a number of concessions suggested by human rights groups on clauses they contended threatened rights and freedoms.

Mrs Ip said changes to the original proposal specify that the Secretary for Security can only consider banning groups after Beijing issues an 'open decree' and clarifies that the SAR groups should be 'subordinated' to their mainland counterparts, rather than 'affiliated' as originally proposed.

On criticism that this power would mean the introduction of mainland standards into the SAR, Mrs Ip said she had the discretion to make the final decision and there would have to be sufficient evidence that the groups were subordinated to the banned mainland organisations and that their activities in Hong Kong would threaten national security.

'This definitely does not involve the question of the mainland legal system being introduced into Hong Kong - there is definitely no automatic banning,' she said.

'If some groups committed something very serious in the mainland which warranted the central government banning them by an open decree, the secretary for security of Hong Kong has the responsibility to consider whether to ban [them] locally.'

In an apparent bid to ease media fears, the government has narrowed the definition of unauthorised disclosure of information under the state secrets clause. But it has not adopted calls to allow the citing of public interest as a defence in court.

Instead of banning unauthorised access to information considered state secrets, the government has narrowed the offence to obtaining the information by criminal means such as theft, robbery, burglary, hacking and bribery.

Mrs Ip said the government had considered introducing the public interest defence, but decided that 'it would not help much' because the definition of relations between the SAR and the central authorities was already 'very narrow'.

Peter Wong Hing-hong, senior assistant solicitor-general, said: 'Someone might try to test the limit of the law if we include this clause.'

Solicitor-General Bob Allcock said the original definition of SAR/mainland relations, which had been criticised as vague, had been amended to only cover matters concerning the SAR that are within the mainland's responsibility stated under the Basic Law, such as defence and national security issues.

Another area where the government stood firm was the call to scrap proposed police entry and search powers without a court warrant. Under the original proposal, officers from the rank of superintendent or higher could authorise such operations as an emergency measure without applying to a court.

The new proposal has raised the rank required to wield such power to chief superintendent, narrowing the number of officers with this power from about 500 to about 100.

Mrs Ip said this power was necessary to counter terrorist threats effectively.

'The vast majority of cases should be approved by the courts, but under emergency situations, such as if someone were planning to bomb the Legislative Council, you could not wait for a court warrant before taking action,' she said.