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  • Dec 25, 2014
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Edward Snowden
CommentInsight & Opinion

Snowden a test of America's strident stance on civil rights

Yoichi Shimatsu recalls US Congress’ fiery denouncement of Article 23

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 June, 2013, 2:05am

If Washington is serious about seeking Edward Snowden's extradition, US Congress had better rescind House Resolution 277, passed in 2003, which categorically rejected national security as grounds for curtailing individual freedom in Hong Kong. The congressional bill is coming back to haunt the US.

The US government's opposition to the proposed Article 23 security amendment to the Basic Law went as far as sending funds and observers for the July 2003 street protests by half a million Hongkongers. By its active intervention and uncompromising legal language, Washington crossed the political Rubicon for civil rights and cannot now reverse its stance without being seen as total hypocrites.

Today, Washington must either stand by its own words or eat them in public

In the same vein as the US Homeland Security Act that came two years earlier, Article 23 was similar to most anti-subversion proposals in its heavy-handedness and dubious disregard for civil rights. It stated: "The HKSAR shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the central people's government, or theft of state secrets."

Note the phrase "theft of state secrets". In its critique, Congress made no exception for the heist of government files and, on the contrary, defended the consulate's routine use of Hong Kong as a market for stolen documents. "The People's Republic of China's history of arbitrary application of its own criminal law against dissenters, and its pattern of imprisoning and exiling those with whom it disagrees, provide strong reasons to oppose the expansion of Beijing's ability to use its discretion against Hong Kong's freedoms," it said.

Congress argued that fugitives from security laws should be allowed to remain in the safe haven of Hong Kong with immunity from deportation back to a jurisdiction where stern punishment is meted out. "Subversion laws in the People's Republic of China are regularly used to convict and imprison journalists, labour activists, internet entrepreneurs, and academics." The detention of the WikiLeaks whistle-blower Bradley Manning and the harsh treatment of suspects at Guantanamo can hardly be taken as signs of leniency.

With indignant self-righteousness, even as the US was conducting its no-holds-barred "war on terror", Congress condemned "any restriction of the freedom of thought, expression, or association in Hong Kong, consistent with the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992".

Today, as Snowden incurs the wrath of the National Security Agency (NSA), Washington must either stand by its own words or eat them in public. Snowden entered Hong Kong not as a thief to auction the classified documents to the highest bidder but as an advocate of intellectual freedom to disclose their content for worldwide public debate.

Instead of authorising extralegal espionage against innocent civilians, Congress should rescind its own version of Article 23. The US, which prides itself for being "exceptional" in its defence of democracy, should lead by positive example.

As for the alarmed NSA spymasters and their CIA henchmen, desperate times should not call for desperate measures - for instance, the sort of kidnapping, detention and renditions done covertly from Hong Kong in the recent past. Those illegal methods give credence to Snowden's fears of reprisal and boost his chances for political asylum.

As stated by Congress in its lambast against Article 23: "It is the duty of freedom-loving people everywhere to stand with the people of Hong Kong against this dangerous erosion of its long-held and cherished rights." The Snowden affair is thus a test case for Washington as much as it is for Hong Kong lawmakers and its judicial system.

Yoichi Shimatsu, former editor of The Japan Times Weekly in Tokyo, was a founding faculty member of the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong


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hard times !
Yeah, as stated by U.S.Congress in its lambast against Article 23 of our Basic Law.'It is the duty of freedom-loving people everywhere to stand with the people of Hong Kong against this dangerous erosion of its long-held and cherished rights.' in 2003.The Snowden Gate Incident is thus a test for Obama administration as much as it is for our lawmakers (especailly those pro-America pan-democratic ones) and its judicial system. Well said, Mr.Yoichi Shimatsu. Though you are a Japanese whose mother country is the closest ally of America in East Asia.
hard times !
Snowden is a self-righteous naif and not President Obama who strongly defended his secret agency in monitoring all people in the world (including that ignorant guy down below who can never identify right from wrong.What a shame !) or Cheney--that old guy who served in the hawkish Bush administration and had his hands soaked with blood of innocent Iraqis ! The invasions of Iraq or even Afghanistan or the one as early as in Vietnam were never so-called due to ill-advised presidents but deliberate invasions to serve the interests of the military-industrial complexes which employ quite a lot of Americans' scientists,engineers and technicians.Right ? Now besides these complexes,there are these intelligence-collecting complexes which collaborate with the web network suppliers such as Apple,Facebook,Google,Yahoo and ...to monitor the phone calls and e-mails of people all over the world as randomly as they would like to !
hard times !
yes,'lambast' is a verb but it is only a trivial indeed.The noun form of it is,'lambaste'.But who cares ? Compared with the blatant clandstine cyber-surveillances of the public in the world by the National Security Agency (which directly responsible to President Obama and his National Intelligence Committee though literally it belongs to the Pentagon,the Defence Department)in the past years (Mainland China for 15 years and our beloved Hong Kong ever since 2009), the misspelt mistake made by leaker-hero, Mr.Edward Snowden,our benefactor,is really nothing at all !
More Americans are killed in traffic accidents than by acts of terror.
hear hear!!
Snowden is a self-righteous naif who isn't worth the effort to extradite. Neither a hero nor a traitor-- just a jerk. A careful study of US media reveals reactions that cover the gamut from far right to far left, including calls for the repeal of the homeland security legislation. These stringent measures were put in place in response to large scale multiple acts of terror, a fact that is conveniently ignored in your characterization of a "no-holds barred war on terror." On September 11,2001 many in the Middle East applauded and joyfully danced in the streets. Bush and Cheney woefully embroiled themselves (and us) in ill-advised wars and invasions,without exit strategies or even actual viable initial plans. The NSA and/or the CIA would like to get their hands on Snowden, without a doubt, but I don't think he's worth the bother. Maybe he and Assange could hang out together somewhere and live happily ever after. Don't condemn the US for its militancy on human and civil rights. You have literally no idea what you're missing.
FYI: lambast is a verb.


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