Sat, Jul 05, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Tung says security law `our duty'

FREEDOMS An economic journal said it may have to close if the Hong Kong chief executive carries out his promise to Beijing to enact anti-subversion legislation


Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) said yesterday his government was duty-bound to enact a controversial security law, which has provoked massive public protests.

Tung, in his first remarks since a short statement issued hours after hundreds of thousands of protesters marched through Hong Kong on Tuesday, said he was still considering his response to the unprecedented demonstration.

He said he had been listening "carefully" to views and suggestions from his Cabinet and his ministers as well as members of the community in the wake of the protest, which saw more than 500,000 people take to the streets.

"I understand people's concerns" over the legislation of the law, said Tung, adding he would make an announcement immediately after a decision had been reached.

He reiterated that the legislation would not affect the freedoms and rights traditionally enjoyed by people in Hong Kong.

But Tung hinted the government planned to press ahead with the legislation, due to be enacted on Wednesday, stating, "It is our duty as Chinese citizens" under the Constitution to legislate the national security law.

"It is an important part in our relations with the central government," he said.

Meanwhile, Democrat Legislator Martin Lee (李柱銘) expressed disappointment over Tung's failure to respond sooner to the mass protest and demanded a delay in the legislation of the law.

"It is unbelievable that at this stage" Tung was still stating the law would not affect freedom, Lee told the government-run broadcaster RTHK before attending a debate in the legislature on how to respond to Tuesday's protests.

Lee added that Tung may be "waiting" for a decision from the central government in Beijing.

It was widely reported in Hong Kong yesterday that the politburo in Beijing held an emergency meeting on the proposed legislation.

Under Hong Kong's post-1997 handover Constitution, the city must pass a national security law, banning treason, sedition, subversion and the theft of state secrets.

Opponents say the legislation could erode political freedoms and curb free speech. Critics are concerned China could use the law to stifle reporting of government abuse, prevent protests against the government and block access to legal representation.

They fear it will allow authorities to crush groups that are outlawed in China but at present allowed to practice in Hong Kong, such as the Falun Gong spiritual movement.

A leading Hong Kong financial newspaper said yesterday it may opt to end or sell its business if the government passes the law.

Cho Chi-ming, executive director of Hong Kong Economic Journal, told local Cable TV that "the company will seek legal advice" about such a course of action the government passes the anti-subversion law without amendment next week.

Cho said the media industry as a whole is concerned about provisions in the proposed anti-subversion law.

"It is worrying for journalists when personal freedom is threatened," he said, apparently referring to cases in China where journalists have faced difficulties in reporting certain sensitive stories.

The newspaper wants the proposed law amended to include a clause allowing the media to use the right of public interest as a defense against any charge that state secrets have been reported.

In China, there have been many instances where journalists have got into serious trouble for reporting on what the authorities claim to have been state secrets.

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