National security law based on Article 23 not a priority, say leaders

No timetable for controversial Article 23, says Leung, despite pressure after PLA break-in

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 January, 2014, 3:23am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 January, 2014, 3:23am

Leung Chun-ying and key ministers presented a united front yesterday amid renewed debate over a controversial piece of national security legislation, saying it was not a priority.

The Chief Executive, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung and Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok gave that answer on three separate occasions yesterday, echoing views expressed a day earlier by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

Article 23 of the Basic Law requires Hong Kong to pass laws prohibiting acts of "treason, secession, sedition, or subversion". An attempt in 2003 to pass a law based on Article 23 was shelved after half a million people took to the streets to protest it.

But former Basic Law Committee member Professor Wang Zhenmin reignited the debate on Monday when he called for the article to be implemented.

His comments came in the wake of a trespass by activists at the People's Liberation Army barracks in Central last month.

Yesterday, Leung said: "We don't have a plan or a timetable to legislate for Article 23, but we know that it is a constitutional responsibility of ours."

Yuen said Hong Kong already had enough statutory and common law provisions to deal with such acts as the trespass into the military barracks.

"The government has work to do on many other areas," the justice minister said after distributing leaflets to promote the consultation on electoral reform.

"Political reform, for example, will be a heavy workload for us, so we wish to give it priority, and put our resources and time into issues other than [national security laws]."

The security minister Lai gave a similar answer.

Executive councillor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee - who quit as security minister after the 2003 protest - said Wang's call was irrelevant.

"It is not related to breaking into barracks," she said. "Amendments can be made if people think that the existing laws are insufficient."

But she added that the government should consider national security legislation after implementing universal suffrage for the chief executive election in 2017, because Beijing was "disappointed" that there was no such law in the city yet.