Without Democrats, Article 23 debate proves speedy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 June, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 June, 2003, 12:00am

A detailed examination of the controversial proposed national security laws was completed at high speed in the Legislative Council yesterday. But it was hardly a consensus-building affair, as all but one of the pro-democracy camp's legislators were not there - having opted to attend a conference of international experts taking place at the same time.

Seizing the opportunity to bring the clause-by-clause scrutiny of the draft Article 23 legislation to a close, a motion moved by Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong chairman Tsang Yok-sing - which brought a procedural end to the process - was passed unanimously.

This was hardly the end of the affair, however. Even though it is unlikely the bill will be passed with any further amendments, the legislative process ensures there will be a few more opportunities for legislators to get their kicks in before July 9, when it will be voted on.

Lawmakers from the pro-democracy camp, except Democrat Sin Chung-kai, opted to attend a full-day conference on the draft legislation at the University of Hong Kong, which was organised by the Bar Association and the university's faculty of law. Speakers included top legal and human rights experts from around the world, such as Yale University's Chen Zhiwu and Cambridge University's Christopher Forsyth.

In the absence of opponents, pro-government legislators, who have been accused of rushing through the bill, took less than eight hours to complete the clause-by-clause examination.

Government officials have repeatedly requested the bill be passed before the legislative session ends next month. That leaves July 9 as its deadline.

The bill, which seeks to ban acts of treason, subversion and sedition under Article 23 of the Basic Law, is set to be tabled to the House Committee on Friday and put to a vote on July 9. It effectively means that legislators have until June 28 to table proposed amendments.

Speaking after the meeting, bills committee chairman Ip Kwok-him said: 'I think as bills committee members, it's their [pro-democracy lawmakers] responsibility to scrutinise the bill. But they chose to attend other activities.'

But pro-democracy legislators, who will submit a series of amendments in the next meeting, disagreed with him, saying it was also the responsibility of legislators to listen to the views of experts.

Describing the bill committee's speed in finishing the clause-by-clause examination as 'not surprising', independent legislator Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said: 'All these experts [who attended the HKU conference] gave detailed and objective analysis of the bill.'

Ms Eu said the government should listen to the experts' views in drafting the laws.