The first consultation document issued by the Office of the Chief Executive-designate is nothing if not frank. It sets the context for planned amendments to the Societies and Public Order Ordinances, 're-focusing' on the restrictions permissible under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and preventing anti-China activities under outside influence. China's paranoia about Hong Kong being used as a base for subversion thus colours the whole issue of the future of civil liberties in Hong Kong after July 1. The document is frank from the start. It points out that rights are not absolute - a truism, and that the international covenant allows restrictions. The implication is it is compatible with the covenant to restrict civil liberties. What is not argued in the document is why the restrictions proposed are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety, public order, public health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedom of others. This is important. While rights and restrictions are set out in the international covenant, the emphasis is clearly on rights. The question is not whether you can get away with a restriction, but whether you can find a way to further liberalise. Hong Kong legislation in the past decade has steadily followed the spirit of liberalisation. The present document has sounded the clarion for a reversal of this policy. In this light, its significance far exceeds restricting the rights now enjoyed by Hong Kong people under these two ordinances and it must be taken very seriously indeed. What should be noted in passing is the significant absence from the document of how the present law contravenes the Basic Law, so that the planned amendments are needed. This absence proves that China considers the present law too liberal for comfort. Any illusion that the increased powers of the executive provided by the amendments will not be used should be banished from the start. That there is no real social need for the new restrictions in Hong Kong can be clearly seen in the document. In paragraph 3.3, intrusion into a foreign consulate and blocking traffic are cited as the basis for a need to 're-focus' on restrictions. Yet both kinds of incidents have obviously been adequately dealt with under the present laws covering demonstrations and protests. The police have frequently assured the public so. The attempt to justify greater restrictions under the Societies Ordinance is equally transparent. Paragraph 4.4 says, 'We must also take steps to prevent Hong Kong from being used for political activities against China. This has been a long-standing policy of the Hong Kong Government.' If there is no new mischief, there can be no justification for new legal restrictions. The restrictions themselves are most questionable. The clear message is activities against China will be banned. What is not clear is what activities will be considered as being anti-China. There is no statement to the effect that they will be restricted to activities against China's national security or to anything else. Will a campaign against infringement of human rights in China be anti-China activity? Will demonstrations such as the June 4 demonstrations of 1989 be anti-China? Basically any political group (which is not a professional body) interested in supporting elections to the three-tier system of government will be affected under the restrictions. Apparently even groups interested in commenting on public affairs are included. All would be under vigilance. They are identified as bodies through which 'political forces' may work against China. These are vague terms indeed, leaving the executive tremendous discretionary power and control. All 'political organisations' will be prohibited from soliciting or accepting outside financial assistance, which again is so all encompassing as to inhibit normal activities. For example, invitations to conferences abroad with any subsidy for travel or accommodation will become questionable. As indirect subsidies will likewise be prohibited, it will also be necessary to find out how an activity abroad is funded to be safe. This will apply not only to organisations, but also to individual 'aliens'. Overseas Chinese concerned about Hong Kong and China will no doubt fall into this category. An 'international political organisation' is not defined. There is nothing to limit these to political parties involved in elections for foreign governments. The question immediately arises as to whether international human rights organisations will be included. Promoting the policy underlying these planned changes will, without doubt, result in a general climate of fear and will curb political activities in the future, not least because the law is so broadly defined as to be open to excess and abuse. Hong Kong will inevitably be a less open society and more suspicious and hostile towards foreigners and the outside world. Returning to a system of registration is a step backward, but the stated purpose is more chilling. It is so that societies can be effectively monitored and controlled. Paragraph 4.13 strikes at the many societies now registered as limited companies, giving the Registrar the power to refuse registration on suspicion that they want to evade restrictions under the Societies Ordinance. The Chief Executive in council may even order a company to be struck off the register simply on being satisfied that 'the suspicion is justified'. Thus the executive authorities will be given new power to interfere with commercial life without effective redress. The planned amendment to the Public Order Ordinance is a transparent device to return to the system of demonstration by permission, which in its very nature denies the right to hold protests. The timing of the planned amendments will also cause problems. The need to apply for a 'notice of no objection' may mean no lawful demonstrations can be held on July 1, the day it is proposed these changes will come into effect. Some people will certainly hold demonstrations all the same. There is little doubt some will be arrested and charged. When that happens it will be almost inevitable that a legal challenge to the legality of the amendments will form a central part of the defence, on the basis that the provisional legislature cannot in law exercise any legislative power before July 1, whether or not it is itself the legal and constitutional legislature of the Special Administrative Region. It is sad that China has seen fit to set in train a series of events which will seriously damage the stability of the SAR and the world's confidence in it. It is also sad that the goodwill of the community towards Tung Chee-hwa as Chief Executive-designate and Elsie Leung Oi-sie as Secretary for Justice-designate has suffered a setback so soon.