Bill comes under renewed media fire

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 June, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 June, 2003, 12:00am

Journalists condemn the proposed laws as the greatest threat since the handover

A damning report on the proposed national security laws was issued by the Hong Kong Journalists Association yesterday, which said the bill was the greatest threat to freedom of the press and expression since the handover.

The report, co-drafted by the international media concern group Article 19, also condemned the latest government amendments to the bill, which would give the secretary of security the power to make rules of appeal for groups that had been banned as national security threats.

Entitled 'False security: Hong Kong's security laws pose a grave threat to freedom of expression', the report said the proposed laws to implement Article 23 of the Basic Law banning acts of treason, sedition and theft of state secrets were the greatest threat to freedom since the change of sovereignty in 1997.

'The political nature of such offences will mean that legislation, even if there are checks and balances, must sit uncomfortably with the protection of certain rights, especially freedom of expression,' it said.

Among other concerns, the groups said the offences of sedition and the theft of state secrets covered in the bill would severely undermine press freedom, and called for the scrapping of such offences or the inclusion of more safeguards.

Mak Yin-ting, chairwoman of the association, condemned the government's move to push through the bill in a legislature dominated by pro-government parties. She said more time was needed for thorough consultation.

Ms Mak said the 20 amendments the government introduced last week were only cosmetic.

'The changes fail to tackle the fundamental threats to freedom of expression. Rather, they tinker with the edges of the legislation.

'As such, the amendments will not make much difference to how the law is implemented, or the chilling effect it will have on the media,' she said.

She added that the government could not be trusted with the power to decide the appeal mechanism, which would include closed-door trials. 'Power would corrupt officials and we cannot give them a blank cheque on the matter,' Ms Mak said.

The two organisations will submit the report to the legislature and will continue lobbying lawmakers.

But last night the government denied the bill would hamper freedom of expression and the operation of the media and there was no question of the bill being rushed through.