Dear Subscribers and Friends

 

Hong Kong appears to be gathering itself to demonstrate on 1 July against the passage of Article 23 scheduled to take place on 9 July in the Legislative Council. There are many interesting aspects to observe.

 

1. Pant-up Frustration - "not the usual suspects"

 

Hong Kong people's anti-government frustration seems to be reaching new heights as SARS eases. Non-scientific ways to gauge this include:

 

(a) Number of emails coming from "not usual suspects" urging people to attend the 1 July rally.

(b) "Not the usual suspects" taking out newspaper advertisements calling on people to join the rally.

(c) The number of "not the usual suspects" asking for information about how to join the rally.

(d) The wide number of "not the usual suspect" groups intending to join the rally, including doctors, nurses, teachers and lawyers.

 

2. Background to Article 23

 

(a) Article 23 of the Basic Law requires Hong Kong to pass legislation on its own to prohibit acts of subversion, sedition, treason, secession, theft of state secrets, links with foreign political bodies.

 

(b) In 3Q02, the HKSAR Government put out a consultation document last year and received thousands of submissions. It concluded that the majority of people agreed with legislation. [See Article 23 Series from previous Newsletters]

 

(c) An academic research team after several months of combing through all the responses noted that: "Careful study of the submissions reveals that a considerable number of people agreed in principle the implementation of Article 23, as it is duly stipulated in the Basic Law, but found most proposals listed in the consultation document unacceptable ... Our report advises that we should pay more attention to the opinions expressed towards the specific proposals of the consultation document".

http://hkupop.hku.hk

 

(d) One group of legislators asked for more time to scrutinize the Bill particularly when the SARS outbreak has taken attention away from most things in Hong Kong from March till May. However, the pro-government legislators disagreed and the Bill is set for final debate on 9 July.

 

3. Remaining Issues on Specific Proposals

 

Just to gauge your own feelings about the Bill, here are some of the major issues:

 

(a) Do you agree that the police can enter your home without a court warrant?

(b) Do you agree that you can commit the offence of sedition based on mere speech or writing without any consequences?

(c) Do you agree that the Secretary for Security can "proscribe" a local organization based on proscription on the Mainland when this is not required under Article 23?

(d) Do you agree that the SS can proscribe a local organization without applying to a court?

(e) Do you know what are "state secrets"? Do agree that there should be a "public interest" defence in order to protect press freedom?

(f) Do you agree that the Bill cannot be given more time for scrutiny and must be passed on 9 July?

 

4. Government caught out

 

(a) Issue of time

 

Last weekend, at a seminar on Article 23, John Kamm, a business who spent years working with Mainland authorities for the release of prisoners of conscience, stated that he thought the Mainland would need to change its own laws to provide a certification procedure to complement the HKSAR's proscription mechanism. Law officers at the seminar did not appear to have thought about this and despite initial denial, a rushed amendment to the Bill was put up two days later.

 

Kamm was clearly amused. How is it that he could jet into the city and within half an hour identify a key unresolved issue when officials keep saying there had been sufficient time to comb through every detail? What other ghosts may be lurking still in the draft law and why does the HKSAR Government not care?

 

(b) Issue of economics

 

At the same conference, Chen Zhiwu, an economist from Yale University, suggested that Hong Kong people should be concerned about Article 23 because our predominantly service economy needs the free flow of information. He noted that our financial services sector needs a free environment to thrive, and the best trump card that Hong Kong has against Shanghai is our freedoms. The message was clear – Hong Kong messes around with its freedoms at its own peril. This point has been ignored by the authorities.

 

5. Analysis

 

(a) During the SARS outbreak, Hong Kong people put their frustrations aside to cope with SARS. Now that SARS has eased, focus is back on Article 23. The unwillingness of the government to give LegCo more time to scrutinize the Bill has become a symbol of the government's intransigence in dealing with the public on issues it does not wish to address.

 

(b) People believe the government has little leeway because the pressure is coming from Beijing for Article 23 to be passed now. There is a strong sense of irony that as China has pledged itself to be more open post-SARS, Hong Kong now has to pass new laws to that could limit press freedom.

 

(c) Hong Kong people felt frustrated with the government over many issues and they do not all relate to a soft economy. Frustrations include (i) Lexus-gate where the Financial Secretary bought a car ahead of his own Budget seemingly to avoid paying the new  vehicular tax; and (ii) the appointment of the minister of health, EK Yeoh, to head the committee to review how the government handled SARS when his own actions also needed to be examined.

 

(d) The examples in 3(i) and (ii) point directly to the Chief Executive's new ministerial system put in place a year ago ostensible to improve accountability but they are poor examples of an accountable government.

 

(e) The rumours point to Chinese premier Wen Jiabao coming to Hong Kong on 1 July for the celebration of the 6th Year anniversary of the HKSAR. It is a pity that he will be greeted by a massive public rally. He should not take it personally though!

 

(f) It is hoped that Wen's staffers will not emphasize the demonstrations were whipped up by the usual suspects of democratic types with foreign governments assistance (now that the White House has spoken out against Article 23) but be able to provide solid analysis of Hong Kong people's real frustration with the authorities.

 

CHRISTINE LOH

Civic Exchange

www.civic-exchange.org

Hong Kong non-profit think tank