New Security Laws Increase Hong Kong's Insecurity

No news is not necessarily good news for Hong Kong. Before its reunification with mainland China, many people expected the former British colony to grab headlines as Beijing progressively stripped its freedoms. Instead, Hong Kong mostly vanished from the world's news radar after 1997. Five years since its handover, and contrary to expectation, Hong Kong retains its rights.

But this could be changing. C.H. Tung, Hong Kong's Chief Executive, began his second term last year by proposing new security laws, causing a few news blips of worry. The legislation is meant to comply with Article 23 of the Basic Law, the mini-constitution that governs Hong Kong and that requires the government to enact laws against treason, sedition, subversion, and theft of national secrets.

Article 23 has been a sensitive issue from the moment Hong Kong was returned to China, because its inclusion in the Basic Law came in the wake of the Hong Kong population's strong support for the 1989 pro-democracy movement in Beijing. To maintain political stability, both the Chinese and Hong Kong governments willingly shelved the issue during Tung's first term. With his re-election, they abruptly decided that they had waited long enough and would enact the Article 23 security laws before mid-2003.

Vague in wording and unnecessarily broad in scope, the new laws sparked widespread fear that Article 23 will lead to curtailment of basic rights. Lawyers warn of a threat to individual liberty and due process. Journalists argue that defending the public's interest sometimes requires reporting state secrets. Teachers worry that banning possession of seditious materials will undermine academic freedom. Religious and sociopolitical associations fear that their global ties will be severed and their existence threatened if their counterparts abroad are declared subversive in mainland China.