Members of the public attending or observing meetings in the legislature will be required to undergo security checks and register their identities starting from tomorrow, the Legislative Council president said yesterday.
The new rules announced by Jasper Tsang Yok-sing yesterday followed a controversy in January, when members of the student-led group Scholarism were detained by Legco security staff for an hour after they left their seats during a special meeting on political reform in order to hand petition letters to government officials.
Security officers said they could not release the students as some had refused to disclose their identities. Scholarism complained that the officers tried to compel the students to sign statements promising not to disrupt future meetings and had not explained what law - if any - the students had broken.
"The Legislative Council treasures communication with the public," said Tsang. "But as the issues discussed in the Legco committees are controversial, members of the public sometimes may have a strong view on the issues and even react emotionally. We should try our best to ensure the meetings can be conducted without disturbances while the public can also express their opinions."
Under the new rules effective from tomorrow, the public will need to pass security checks and provide their identity cards for registration before they enter the chamber or public gallery.
All personal information collected will be handled in accordance with the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, Tsang added. Rules banning "protest props" from meetings had always existed, he added, but had not been fully enforced until now.
"We want to ensure that everyone can express their opinions freely, but that doesn't include the right to hurl objects at government officials," Tsang said.
A variety of props appeared at special meetings of Legco's constitutional affairs panel in January as representatives and the public debated upcoming political reform. Some radical democrats scattered pages torn from the city's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, as they spoke.
Icarus Wong Ho-yin, vice-convenor of the pro-democracy Civil Human Rights Front, said Legco should show flexibility in how it handles props brought by the public, as long as they did not form any security threat to others.
"Legco is an institution of public opinion. It should not impose too many restrictions on the public," he said.
Oscar Lai Man-lok, a member of Scholarism, said he found it acceptable to require public visitors to register their identity cards before meetings.
But he worried that the banning of props was an unnecessary curb on the public's freedom of expression.