A top pro-Beijing lawmaker yesterday said the Hong Kong government should consider watering down an anti-subversion bill that prompted a protest by 500,000 people earlier this week.
"Since people still have existing doubts and this has caused such a great controversy, can the government consider responding to people's worries?" asked Jasper Tsang, chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong.
The law, expected to be enacted next week, would ban subversion, treason, and sedition, giving police more powers and carrying life prison sentences for some offenses. Many Hong Kong residents fear an erosion of local freedoms of speech, press and assembly.
Tsang's party typically supports Hong Kong's government on legislative matters, but it was not clear whether his comments would sway the administration. Tsang said he thinks the bill is fine as written, but that the government should do something to address people's worries.
He suggested one part of the bill that could be changed was a provision to let Hong Kong outlaw local groups that are subordinate to groups that have been banned in China on national security grounds.
Critics say that measure might be used against Falun Gong, the meditation sect outlawed in China as an "evil cult" but which is allowed to practice, and protest, in Hong Kong.
That part of the bill "has raised suspicions among many people in Hong Kong and overseas," Tsang said in remarks to reporters that aired on local television. He did not immediately respond to phone calls from The Associated Press.
Journalists are worried about a provision that outlaws unauthorized disclosure of classified information, and Tsang suggested the government could allow them to avoid prosecution if they can prove such materials were published in the public interest.
The government has repeatedly rejected that idea in the past.
Tuesday's rally was the biggest in Hong Kong since 1 million people demonstrated against China's deadly crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement in June 1989. Protesters plan to be out again in large numbers next week. The bill is expected to pass the legislature Wednesday.
Hong Kong Police Chief Tsang Yam-pui warned protesters not to interfere with the Legislative Council.
"If we're talking about surrounding and blocking the legislature, that impedes the operation of the legislature. It's illegal. Citizens should not do it and should not encourage other people to do it," Tsang said yesterday.
Opposition lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan accused Tsang of trying to keep down the number of protesters.
"I wonder whether the top cop, by making these comments now, at such a sensitive time, is trying to smear us and prevent citizens from showing up," Lee told reporters.
Australia and New Zealand voiced concerns yesterday about the law and called on Hong Kong to ensure that civil liberties aren't jeopardized. The US, the EU and Britain have voiced similar concerns.
Beijing has condemned such comments as unwarranted meddling into internal Chinese affairs.