The change affects the way so-called subordinate groups can be outlawed A last-minute amendment was made by the Hong Kong government yesterday to the Article 23 bill regarding the banning of local groups which might threaten national security. The move came two days after a top US human rights experts found a loophole in the proposal which he claimed could undermine freedom on the mainland. But pro-democracy legislators said the changes were made too hastily and damaged, rather than improved, the bill. They said the power of mainland authorities to initiate the mechanism which would ban groups in Hong Kong had become more muddled. There are widespread fears that the bill to implement Article 23 of the Basic Law, which aims to ban acts of treason, subversion and sedition, will further undermine freedom and civil liberties. However, pro-government parties have pushed through a motion effectively ending legislative scrutiny of the bill. On Friday the Legco house committee will recommend that the bill be put to the vote on July 9. Yesterday's amendment would allow the outlawing mechanism to start against a Hong Kong group which is subordinate to a branch on the mainland when the central government officially announces by an 'open proclamation' that the mainland group is banned for threatening national security. A gazettal, a press conference or a public notice in newspapers would be considered an 'open proclamation'. Under the original bill, Hong Kong's secretary for security could consider outlawing groups when the central government announced through an 'open decree' that their mainland counterparts were banned on national security grounds. An 'open decree' is understood to be some sort of legal or executive order made by the central government. The original clause was criticised on Sunday by human rights activist John Kamm of the Dui Hua [Dialogue] Foundation. He said it would force the mainland to enact laws in order to suit the Hong Kong banning mechanism. Mr Kamm said this would lead to a 'retreat' in human rights on the mainland. The amendment was also condemned as confusing and dangerous by some legislators. Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, representing the legal sector, said: 'How could anyone define what a proclamation is? Everything has become more muddled and no one would know under what circumstances a group could be banned.' Lee Cheuk-yan, of the Confederation of Trade Unions, said lower-level government organs on the mainland could be given the power to initiate the banning process. 'In the future even security departments at local levels could officially announce that some groups affect national security.' But Solicitor-General Robert Allcock said only government organs at the level of the State Council could make an open proclamation, and this could only happen after a group is banned in accordance with mainland laws. Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said: 'The question that it would create a retreat in human rights on the mainland does not exist.' Mr Kamm said the amended bill would still greatly affect human rights as the central government would have to issue a 'certificate' to Hong Kong courts as proof that mainland groups were banned on national security grounds. The mainland authorities would thus be forced to criminalise some people for being a member of an organisation which was not previously outlawed. Despite heated exchanges over whether the scrutiny process should be extended, a motion moved by Lau Kong-wah, of the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong urging the bill be recommended for a second reading on July 9, was passed with the support of pro-government parties.