Occupy Central could spur security law and use of force, warns expert

Basic Law Institute chief says planned protest could prompt PLA involvement

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 March, 2014, 10:54am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 March, 2014, 6:07pm


The Occupy Central civil-disobedience movement could prompt implementation of the hotly-opposed national security law or the use of force by the garrison, an expert on the mini-constitution has warned.

“Have the organisers ever thought about the implications?” Basic Law Institute chairman Alan Hoo SC asked yesterday.

He said there was a solid link between the pro-democracy movement and national security, against the backdrop of recent turmoil in nearby places.

“The situation of Hong Kong is indispensable when considering China’s overall security,” Hoo said, pointing to terrorist attacks in Kunming and Xian, and the uprising in Thailand. “The forthcoming Occupy Central definitely fosters the (security) legislation of Basic Law Article 23.”

The national security bill which outlaws subversion and treason, was shelved in 2003 after 500,000 people took to the streets in protest.

The Occupy Central movement plans to paralyse the city’s core business district to campaign for “genuine universal suffrage” but organisers insist it will be peaceful.

Hoo, a delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said even if the government did not table an Article 23 bill, the movement could lead to implementation of Annex III of the mini-constitution – the application of national laws by Hong Kong, including the use of force by the People’s Liberation Army.

China’s law on the garrisoning of the HKSAR allows the army to use force in the city to “perform its duties in a state of emergency”.

“In the event that the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress decides…by reason of turmoil…which endangers national unity or security,” the law stipulates, “the Hong Kong Garrison shall perform its duties”.

Core organisers of the movement, including University of Hong Kong law academic Dr Benny Tai Yiu-ting and Chinese University sociologist Dr Chan Kin-man, have said repeatedly the movement will be conducted peacefully.

Despite Hoo’s warning, Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said in January that there is no possibility that Hong Kong police will call in the People’s Liberation Army to deal with public disorder.

Responding to a question in the Legislative Council on the circumstances in which the government would seek Beijing’s intervention, Lai said: “Our disciplined forces, especially the police force, are well trained and seasoned in handling large-scale events, including protests and marches. I have absolute confidence in the Hong Kong police force, that it has the ability to handle any internal security problem.

“Although there is a clause in the Basic Law [that provides for requests for PLA intervention], I see no possibility of our police failing to handle these situations well, according to law."

Asked whether a protest for “genuine democracy” would be considered “a danger to national unity” – under which Beijing has the power to declare a state of emergency and send troops to Hong Kong – Lai did not give a clear answer.

Meanwhile, Commissioner of Correctional Services, Sin Yat-kin, said this week that if the planned Occupy Central demonstration took place and police make a high number of arrests, there is plenty of room in the city’s prisons for detainees.

“We are confident that we can take care of more such people under our custody using our current resources,” Sin said, adding that the prison population is at a 20-year low.

Last year, the average daily prison population dropped to 9,206 from 9,247 in 2012. The average occupancy rate was about 80 per cent.