PART 6: ARTICLE 23 SERIES
The Security Bureau (SB) put out two documents this afternoon (28/1/03):
1. A review of responses to its consultation proposal on Article 23 legislation; and
2. A pamphlet entitled "The Way Forward".
Expect an uproar. It may take a few days to brew. There are likely to be allegations of deliberate misinterpretation and misrepresentation of public responses. The SB's consultation process may become totally discredited, which will likely in turn have the unfortunate effect of discrediting the HKSAR Government and indeed the HKSAR itself.
A. Summary of Responses
1. SB received 97,097 local submissions which 340,513 people signed (5% of the population).
2. SB received 3,812 overseas submissions with 29,099 signatures.
3. SB divided responses into the following categories:
(i) individuals (ii) organizations (iii) standard letters/printed forms or (iv) signature forms
(a) Those FOR legislation; (b) Those AGAINST legislation; and (c) undiscernible/unclear.
(x) Those who wanted a Blue Bill and (y) Those who wanted a White Bill.
4. The results were accompanied by a compendium with 18 volumes of responses. These volumes will be available for inspection at District Offices starting on 29/1/03.
B. Local Responses - did you write in?
1. Individuals: 5,157 submissions with (8,394) signatures
2. FOR: 2,890 (4,741)
3. AGAINST: 1,426 (1,926)
4. UNCLEAR: 841 (1,727)
1. Organizations: 1,067
2. FOR: 925
3. AGAINST: 65
4. UNCLEAR: 77
1. Standard letters/printed forms: 81,027 (85,987)
2. FOR: 61,788 (66,609)
3. AGAINST: 16,229 (16,332)
4. UNCLEAR: 3,010 (3,046)
1. Signature forms: 9,846 (246,132)
2. FOR: 2,512 (65,185)
3. AGAINST: 7,112 (175,823)
4. UNCLEAR: 222 (5,124)
1. For Blue Bill
(i) Individuals 6.8% (ii) Organizations 10.8% (iii) Standard letters/printed forms 6.9% and (iv) Signature forms 0.5%
2. For White Bill
(i) Individuals 15.1% (ii) Organizations 5.6% (iii) Standard letters/printed forms 6.2% and (iv) Signature forms 2.8%
3. Preference not indicated
(i) Individuals 78.11% (ii) Organizations 83.6% (iii) Standard letters/printed forms 86.9% and (iv) Signature forms 96.4%
C: Quick Analysis of the Responses
1. The straight forward conclusion on the face of the numbers is that more individuals 194,081 who bothered to put their name in writing were against legislation, with 136,535 for legislation.
2. SB may argue that more organizations favoured legislation and as organizations represent members that they represent a much greater number. Time is needed to go through the types of organizations who wrote in - a casual glance today made interesting reading.
3. What is interesting is how SB interpreted responses. I belong to a group called the Article 23 Concern Group. We are a small group of lawyers. Our response was categorized as "UNCLEAR" when we thought we were quite clear. The Bar Association's long and detailed submission was categorized as "UNCLEAR", as was that of the Hong Kong Political Science Association, both of whom also thought they were quite clear.
4. It would appear that the SB is unable/unwilling to distinguish that there is a world of difference between a submission that in principle accepts the need for legislation to protect national security but refutes SB's actual proposals. Thus, submissions like those mentioned above which challenges almost every aspect of the SB's proposals were categorized as UNCLEAR.
5. When the issue is as complex as Article 23, it is unhelpful to simply categorize responses as For, Against and Unclear. Indeed, the categorization misrepresented the views of at least some respondents. So, how many misinterpretations are there among the responses? SB's efforts could become totally discredited once respondents start to refute how their views have been misinterpreted. Other organizations who have written in expressing detailed concerns, such as the various chambers of commerce and were likewise interpreted to have expressed UNCLEAR views, will they make a fuss?
6. Regarding the results on whether people wanted a White Bill, more people were explicit about wanting a White Bill. However, most people were not specific about either a White or Blue Bill. So, is the conclusion then people don't care either way?
D. The Pamphlet
The SB said it had taken into account the views expressed and the government would "further clarify" its proposals and will safeguard fundamental rights and freedoms. You will read in the papers the minor areas where the SB has given way but the initial reactions from lawyers is that until you see the drafting it remains hard to analyze exactly how offences will be framed and the extent of protection provided. So, the reason for publishing a draft bill for further consultation in fact remains.