A pro-Beijing legal expert has weighed into the debate about applying national security laws in Hong Kong, saying it would be consistent with Basic Law provisions that empower Beijing to act in times of "emergency".
Alan Hoo, chairman of the Basic Law Institute, an NGO, also warned that Occupy Central could be just such a trigger. He called on Hongkongers not to demonise Article 23 of the mini-constitution that requires Hong Kong to enact national security legislation. It was shelved more than a decade ago in the face of mass protests, but Hoo said it offered the only alternative to direct application of mainland law in an emergency.
He was speaking after Peking University law professor Rao Geping was quoted as saying some mainland academics wanted national security laws applied in Hong Kong until the city enacted legislation under Article 23. Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing said he was shocked by the suggestion and said it clashed with the Basic Law.
But Hoo yesterday pointed to the Basic Law's Article 18 that says if Beijing decides Hong Kong is in a state of turmoil which "endangers national unity or security" and is beyond the SAR government's control, central authorities may issue an order applying relevant national laws.
Speaking on Commercial Radio, he said the mainland academics could be worried about the Occupy Central movement that plans to block roads in the financial district in a non-violent push for democracy.
Hoo suggested Rao was saying that "without an Article 23 law, the People's Liberation Army lacks a legal ground to operate" in the city. Referring to the wave of revolutions in North Africa since 2010, Hoo said that the mainland academics could be "thinking about an emergency situation - and definitely Occupy Central, for example, if it escalates into an Arab Spring".
If Beijing declared a state of emergency, laws forbidding treason and subversion could be introduced and enacted in Hong Kong immediately.
Article 18 also empowers Beijing to add to a list in the Basic Law's Annex 3 of national laws to be applied in Hong Kong. The list now includes only six national laws - on matters like diplomatic privileges, territorial waters and the national anthem.
Hoo admitted it would be "worrying" if China applied its security laws in the city, because "in a state of emergency, … there will be no judicial procedures and, people can be detained for a long time without due process".
In view of that, Hoo urged the pan-democrats not to "demonise" Article 23, because without it, "the only option is … Annex 3."
Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a barrister, said Article 18 could not be used to justify applying national laws unless there was an "uncontrollable riot that threatens national security".
State Security Law of China
It consists of five chapters of 34 articles and prohibits acts "endangering state security", such as "plotting to subvert the government, dismember the State or overthrow the socialist system".
Offences such as stealing, secretly gathering, unlawfully providing State secrets to foreign organisations - if causing particularly serious harm and under aggravating circumstances - are punishable by death.
Hong Kong Basic Law: Article 23
Hong Kong shall be responsible for enacting laws to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition or subversion against the central government and to prohibit foreign political organisations from conducting political activities in the region.