• Wed
  • Oct 1, 2014
  • Updated: 5:07am
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 June, 2013, 2:00am

By staying in Hong Kong, Snowden will shape democracy debate here

Michael Chugani says Snowden's exposé of US spying and his decision to remain here will shape the local democracy debate - but how?


Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London. Aside from being a South China Morning Post columnist he also hosts ATV’s Newsline show, a radio show and writes for two Chinese-language publications. He has published a number of books on politics which contain English and Chinese versions.

In the shock-filled days after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the US Congress hurriedly approved without debate national security measures put forward by the George W. Bush administration called the Patriot Act, which gave the authorities sweeping powers to spy on people. Human rights groups condemned the act as a violation of civil liberties. But Americans, fearful of further attacks, cared more about security than human rights.

A year after the act came into force, I returned to Hong Kong from the US just as opposition was growing against the Article 23 national security legislation, which the Basic Law requires Hong Kong to implement. It astonished me that democrat legislators were lobbying US congressmen to condemn Article 23 as an abuse of civil liberties. Many congressmen obliged even though the proposed legislation was far milder than the Patriot Act they had rushed through.

I wrote here about the hypocrisy of American lawmakers, but got flak from local democrats who argued that the US government could be trusted with the Patriot Act since it was democratically elected whereas the Hong Kong government was controlled by our communist masters. The whistle-blowing by ex-CIA man Edward Snowden has shredded that argument. Even the democrats are now furious that US spies have hacked into Hong Kong computers.

Snowden's revelations show that a democratically elected US government furtively tracked the phone calls and e-mails of millions of people. This massive surveillance by the National Security Agency has prompted even the author of the Patriot Act, congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, to condemn it as an abuse of the law.

I was working in the US when the September 11 terrorists struck. Like other Americans, I feared future attacks. But the Patriot Act disturbed me. I sensed the potential for abuse. It is no consolation that Snowden's revelations, if true, have confirmed that.

Every country has a right to implement national security laws. Since September 11, many Western democratic nations have implemented security measures that weaken civil liberties. Hong Kong is one of the few places where Article 23 remains taboo. I have said before that we are freer than many societies with democratically elected governments. What we lack is the right to freely elect our leaders, but that is just icing on the democratic cake.

I got flak, too, for saying that. But now Snowden has said virtually the same thing. He said he chose Hong Kong to spill the beans rather than his native US because he felt we were a freer society. His words will ring even truer if the central government has the good sense to allow us a free hand to deal with his case according to our own laws.

Snowden's high praise for our freedoms has opened up a new front in the democracy debate now raging here. The pro-establishment camp could use it to weaken the hand of the pan-democrats pushing for what they call true democracy with the Occupy Central movement. The democrats could use it to strengthen their hand in opposing Article 23.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host. mickchug@gmail.com


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hard times !
Once the harsh Article 23 of our Basic Law is implemented in the territory,the freedoms used to be enjoyed by we Hongkongers will be greatly reduced and we will have to live in white terror ! That explains why we (most Hongkongers of course) have to vigorously object the implementation of it. We just don't want to be watched by the Big Brother like what Edwand Snowden has revealed: our communications on the internet and mobile phone calls were monitored or cyber-spied in the past four years by the National Security Agency of the Pentagon,U.S.A.Our privacy is compomised and so do our freedoms of expression and thought plus actions. Right ? As Franklin once said,' if you abandon freedom for the sake of so-called security (national security), one day you will find that you lose both your freedom and security as well !' Just wait and see whether his words were right !
Yes, maybe the so called pan-democrats would use the Snowden's case to strengthen their hand in opposing Article 23. But I doubt they should further claim that the US democratically elected Government is a virtue but the authoritarian Chinese plus the Hong Kong SAR Government is a total vice.
George W Bush was elected US President in 2000 (while he lost in the popular votes), the US presidential election system is not so perfect either.
Now 16 years after 1997, by now nobody, with common sense, should still say Hong Kong’s freedom has eroded under the Chinese Communist regime. Waiving a colonial flag, those who claim that the HK British Colonial Government better protected freedoms or democracy just simply do not even know their own history (shame & naïve to call themselves “nativists”).
I was in the July 1 2003 march against Article 23. That was the last public protest I joined in Hong Kong, feeling fooled in the hindsight.
We should not further deny the fact, that the Chinese Communist Government, albeit itself backward in democratic development, has lived up to its promise for Hong Kong’s freedom after 1997.
I am now willing to accept some mild form of Article 23 in exchange for universal suffrage because 16 years of factual experience tells him that Hong Kong would still be the freest place in the World. Even the 2003 version of the Article 23 legislation was very mild, compared with those in all the western democratically elected countries.


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