Vote may not go to all prisoners

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 December, 2008, 12:00am

Some prisoners' hopes of voting in Hong Kong's elections could be in vain, with a government announcement that it is considering barring inmates from voting, depending on the length of their jail terms.

The news from Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung followed a court ruling last week that declared the present system barring inmates from voting breached human rights laws.

Mr Lam, at a meeting of the Legco constitutional affairs panel, said the government respected the court's ruling, and would consult the public and the legislature on how to change the present system. But he said the government would study whether some sort of 'reasonable constraints' should be introduced, for example, whether inmates jailed for certain periods should not be allowed to vote.

He said the government would come up with a draft paper by February to address the issue.

His comments caused concern among some lawmakers and groups looking after prisoners' rights.

Legislator Leung Kwok-hung, of the League of Social Democrats, who helped prisoners apply for the judicial review leading to the court judgment, said Hong Kong should not follow the example of some places that determined rights to vote based on jail terms.

'We are not the mainland, which can rob a prisoner's political rights indefinitely,' he said. 'Everybody should be given ... equal rights, and prisoners are no different.'

The Society for Community Organisation urged the government to think twice.

'The right to vote is a fundamental right for all citizens, and no matter how long jail terms are, prisoners should enjoy this right equally,' the group said.

The government is operating from the standpoint that since the court stopped short of saying there should be no voting restriction on prisoners, the community should be consulted on how far this right should be extended.