Officials need not bring in new laws against subversion as Basic Law obligations could be met without doing so, according to a human rights watchdog. In a 42-page report, Human Rights Monitor urges the Government to make a clean break from its 'pattern of rights denial' by publicly pledging to respect and conform to international human rights standards in all of its actions relating to Article 23 of the Basic Law. The mini-constitution's Article 23 stipulates that the SAR enact its own laws to prohibit acts such as treason, sedition or subversion against the central Government, as well as the theft of state secrets. Law Yuk-kai, the director of Human Rights Monitor, said: 'Article 23 has been described as a 'ticking time bomb', and its potential effect on human rights in Hong Kong could be very severe. The international community will be watching closely to see whether the Government will take rights protection seriously when it deals with security law.' Mr Law believes the Government could fulfil the Article 23 obligation by, for example, simply updating the treason provisions of the Crimes Ordinance as all of the listed activities could be covered by treason alone. 'As long as all of the acts listed are covered by law, then the requirements of Article 23 are met,' he said. But with the exception of rescinding changes already made to the law, the best way forward would probably be to take no action, he said. Human Rights Monitor also urged Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa to improve various laws including the controversial Societies and Public Order ordinances, saying they were not yet up to international standards. Improvement was necessary to avoid any abuse of national security legislation that might lead to limits on academic and religious freedom and freedom of speech, it said. The watchdog's report, entitled 'A Ticking Time Bomb? Article 23, Security Law and Human Rights in Hong Kong' and which seeks to outline a framework for any new security laws centred on human rights, is the first such comprehensive dossier of its kind made by a non-governmental organisation. It took the group two years to compile. Human Rights Monitor said producing the framework - which focuses on secession, subversion, treason and sedition - was warranted as it was aware that additional legislation under Article 23 of the mini-constitution could be introduced by Mr Tung at any time. Last December, Mr Tung said the SAR would legislate in accordance with Article 23 'in due course', but Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee has said the Government has still not fixed any timetable for introducing such laws. Human Rights Monitor is opposed to any law on subversion or secession, arguing that neither offence is present in the common law and that legislation in other areas can be used to punish freely exercised basic rights. On sedition, the group, which believes such a crime should either be struck from the statute books or narrowed, urges the Government to ask the Law Reform Commission to determine the necessity of such an offence. The recommendations To avoid misuse of security laws Tung Chee-hwa was urged to: Introduce laws to repeal the changes to the Societies and Public Order ordinances passed by the provisional legislature in 1997 and to work with the legislature to rewrite the laws so they conform to international standards; Amend the Official Secrets Ordinance to include a prior publication exception and to ensure that prosecution can be instigated only if disclosure of secrets harms national security. Disclosures should be exempted from prosecution when public benefit outweighs harm to national security; Work with the legislature to liberalise the Crimes Ordinance to modernise the crime of treason so that antiquated offences such as attacks against the Queen's person are eliminated; Introduce additional safeguards so that prosecution of treason can only be instigated if: the accused has an intent to overthrow or otherwise seriously damage or destabilise the Government; his or her action is either forceful or likely to incite violence; Sign into law the repealing of section three of the Crimes Ordinance passed by the pre-handover legislature. The report says section three, entitled 'treasonable offences', is archaic and in many ways duplicates section two. It also mentions 'publishing any printing or writing', making it easier to crack down on free speech; In consultation with the legislature, amend the Emergency Regulations Ordinance to limit the Chief Executive's power during a state of emergency.