The government plans to make stalking a crime, 11 years after that was first proposed by the Law Reform Commission.
Under the proposed law, released yesterday for a three-month public consultation, stalkers will face up to two years in jail and a fine of up to HK$100,000.
The crime is defined as 'a series of acts' directed at specific persons that cause them to feel 'harassed, alarmed or distressed'.
The acts could range from making unwelcome communication with the victim, following the victim around or sending unwanted gifts to the victim, to more serious conduct, like vandalism or physical or verbal abuse.
There are three possible defences: the acts were done to prevent or detect crime; they were done with lawful authority; or they were reasonable under the circumstances.
The crime would cover collective harassment involving more than one stalker - which means media outlets could fall foul of the law if they send more than one journalist to follow the same person, Hong Kong Journalists Association chairwoman Mak Yin-ting said.
Adeline Wong Ching-man, undersecretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, said the defence of reasonableness would provide flexibility and cover press freedom. 'Reasonableness' would be determined case by case.
'The standard varies from profession to profession, from sector to sector,' Wong said. 'It is not feasible to come out with a list of acceptable and unacceptable actions.'
In the Legislative Council's constitutional affairs panel yesterday, Democrat Emily Lau Wai-hing, a former journalist, said the government has to address the media's concerns.
Amanda Whitfort, who teaches law at the University of Hong Kong, said the city needs an anti-stalking law to crack down on 'criminal harassment'.
'It is a positive thing for Hong Kong,' she said. 'We have the Basic Law to protect the rights and freedom of individuals. Also, criminal harassment is not about press coverage, so I don't think it will create a threat to press freedom.'
Stephen Hung Wan-shun, who chairs the Law Society's criminal law and procedure committee, was concerned about shifting the burden of proof to the defendant to show the behaviour was 'reasonable'.
Mak and Human Rights Monitor director Law Yuk-kai said an anti-stalking law should include only specific circumstances, such as harassment arising out of a spousal or domestic relationship, a love affair or debt collection - but not news gathering, including uncovering abuses by the government.