Last week the Secretary for Justice, Elsie Leung Oi-sie, decided against prosecuting the Hong Kong branch of Xinhua (the New China News Agency) for violating the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance. The disturbing move has aroused concern that Xinhua, the embodiment of the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong, is above the law. Last month the Privacy Commissioner, Stephen Lau Ka-men, referred eight cases to the Department of Justice for possible prosecution. Two cases, including one complaint from myself, were related to Xinhua. In December 1996 when the privacy ordinance was enacted, I wrote to the then Xinhua Hong Kong director Zhou Nan asking to see its file on me so I could correct any mistakes. Under the ordinance, a reply must be made within 40 days. The agency took 10 months before they told me they had no file on me. The privacy commissioner said he respected the Secretary for Justice's decision not to prosecute but maintained Xinhua had broken the law. The episode has again focused attention on the role of Xinhua and on whether the rule of law applies to everyone in Hong Kong except the agency. Under the Chinese government's concept of 'one country, two systems', Hong Kong enjoys 'a high degree of autonomy' and is governed according to the Basic Law. However, there is no mention of the Communist Party in the Basic Law. This gives the impression the party is outside the reach of Hong Kong laws. The director of Xinhua is also the general secretary of the Hong Kong Macau Work Committee, the name of the party's Hong Kong branch. One of the main functions of the committee is to provide party leadership for members and mainland-based organisations. Even though Hong Kong is part of China, the role of the party is still a highly sensitive topic. Many local people want to know more but the media have been reluctant to report on this taboo subject. This is because many local people still have dark memories of the atrocities perpetrated by the party and thus harbour deep repugnance and mistrust. The Chinese government is aware of such sentiments and does not want to provoke them. The media understand Beijing's concerns and have for years deliberately played down coverage of the party. Many journalists have never even heard of the committee. The Secretary for Justice's decision not to prosecute Xinhua was completely ignored by the television stations and most Chinese-language daily newspapers. It would appear the party is still a no-go area for many news organisations. Last year in a meeting with the Chief Secretary for Administration, Anson Chan Fang On-sang, I raised the role and functions of Xinhua in the SAR. With hundreds of staff, what exactly do they do? Apart from the headquarters in Happy Valley, Xinhua also has three sub-offices on Hong Kong Island, in Kowloon and the New Territories. These were set up in the 1980s to counter the British colonial administration and should have been disbanded after the handover. In December, Xinhua Hong Kong director Jiang Enzhu was chosen as one of 36 Hong Kong delegates to the National People's Congress (NPC). He is also tipped to become the leader of the Hong Kong NPC delegation. Such a prominent role for Mr Jiang does not sit well with the concept of 'Hong Kong people running Hong Kong'. Preferential treatment for Xinhua will only heighten the people's feeling of hostility and unease.