Hong Kong slides down the slippery slope towards Beijing-style totalitarianism turning eyes towards the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. As national and international opposition to Article 23 grows, the world watches to see whether Hong Kong continues to uphold the "basic Law" or whether it too will bear a very distinct totalitarian stamp?
On 13th October this year a group of disgruntled bridge workers effectively blockaded and closed Hong Kong's Cheung Tsing tunnel for 18 costly minutes at the height of the morning rush hour. The chaos was enormous, yet there were no arrests or charges laid by the police. It seems that this did not constitute a major public threat.
In another incident during the first week of October, 4,500 New Territories villagers marched on the Central Government Office to air their grievances when they had been issued a permit for only 500 people. Witnesses reported jostling and taunting of policemen, and traffic was blocked for some time. . There were no arrests or charges laid by the police. Once again, this was not considered a threat to the public.
In the light of such healthy demonstrations of the right to protest, one might be forgiven for thinking that civil liberties are alive and well in the former British colony. Unfortunately, things are rarely as straightforward as they seem.
Earlier this year, sixteen Falun Gong practitioners held a PEACEFUL sit-in appeal in front of the Chinese Liaison Office in order to express disapproval of Chinese President's orders to SHOOT Falun Gong practitioners caught posting flyers. Several hours into the appeal, at the request of the P.R.C's Liaison Office, Hong Kong policemen arrived on the scene and proceeded to violently take the sixteen practitioners into custody. The sixteen practitioners occupied seven square metres of a fortysquare metre area. The crowd of police officers who were called to attend the incident, succeeded in blocking the entire sidewalk. All sixteen practitioners were later convicted of causing an obstruction.
Looking from the outside inwards, it seems that noisy, disgruntled people who can effectively blockade and disrupt the daily proceedings of a whole society are not considered a threat BUT peaceful, truth-loving, compassion for all appeals are, it seems, a major public threat and what is more ludicrous, a danger to 'national security'! Sadly, these appeals are quickly swept, often brutally, under the carpet, falling on cold, callous and deaf ears. So is this then the definition of what is considered a threat to humanity? Does that mean that 'peace-loving' people must now and forever suffer 'legal punishment'? Does this mean that Hong Kong is sliding down the slippery slope towards Beijing-style totalitarianism?
Weeks before the New Territories march, a group of just 30 pro-democracy advocates were denied a permit to march to the Central Government Office to protest against the proposed enforcement of Article 23.
Article 23 of the Basic Law states that: "The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the central people's government, or theft of state secrets. To prohibit foreign political organisations or bodies from conducting political activities in the region, and to prohibit political organisations or bodies of the region from establishing ties with foreign political organisations or bodies." That is an awful lot of 'prohibition' and bears a very distinct totalitarian stamp.
Hong Kong seems to be drawn even closer to 'one system' where definitions are kept extremely vague, left open to subjective interpretation, where laws are designed so they can be conveniently interpreted and manipulated for whatever purpose the government might deem to be politically expedient at any given moment and where the very notion of what is 'political' is especially open to subjectivity?
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Not surprisingly, Taiwan has taken a keen interest in these events, and developed an increasing scepticism about the much-touted 'one country two systems' theory. The Taipei Times commented on 6th October that if Article 23 is enforced, "the slightest political nuance in Hong Kong's human rights, labour unions and religious organisations can earn them legal punishment." Moreover, the Hong Kong Security chief would have the power to outlaw Hong Kong groups affiliated with 'proscribed organisations' in China that 'endanger national security'. What is most worrying is that throughout Article 23, definitions are kept extremely vague and left open to subjective interpretation. This is typically 'Mainland China' where laws are designed so they can be conveniently interpreted and manipulated for whatever purpose the government might deem to be politically expedient at any given moment. Indeed, the very notion of what is 'political' is especially open to subjectivity. Falun Gong clearly has no political aspirations whatsoever, as is clearly stated in the teachings of the founder, Mr. Li Hongzhi.
The reality is that the 'One Country Two Systems' is quickly becoming One Country One System. The increasingly harsh treatment of Falun Gong practitioners in Hong Kong is a prime example. Several analysts have suggested that this proposed legislation is being hurried through, precisely to outlaw this totally peaceful spiritual practice. Hong Kong's Secretary for Security, Regina Ip, has repeatedly denied that Article 23 will be used against Falun Gong. However, she has also denied that there is a 'blacklist' of foreign Falun Gong practitioners. The fact that over the last 18 months several hundred practitioners with no criminal records, from a variety of different countries, have been refused entry to the SAR makes a mockery of Ip's assertions. Initially, the list was used only at sensitive times, such as when Jiang Zemin was visiting, but it now seems to be operating permanently.
Opposition to Article 23 is escalating both inside Hong Kong and throughout the global community. It is no surprise that within Hong Kong, political, spiritual, trade, human rights and media groups are all voicing their concerns. In addition, former Chief Secretary Ms. Anson Chan (who was prematurely eased out of office by Beijing) has expressed grave reservations about the consultation procedure. Alan Leong, Chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association, has accused the government of employing "outdated concepts from the eighteenth century." Leong told legislators meeting to discuss the proposal that "it's like reviving a vampire."
The British and American Governments as well as the European Parliament have lodged protests. US State Department Deputy Spokesman Philip Reeker suggested on 21st November that 'a democratically elected government answerable to the will of the people, is the best way to ensure the protection of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong'. New Zealand Justice Minister Phil Goff has raised the worrying point that permanent residents of Hong Kong with foreign nationality could be liable for 'crimes' such as treason and sedition if they made certain comments, even outside the SAR. The Australian government has so far been silent on this issue.
The World Association of Newspapers has 'expressed vehement opposition' to the proposed laws, and "warned that it could have a 'chilling' effect on freedom of expression", with all permanent residents, including foreign nationals, liable for prosecution for anything they say inside or outside the territory. Hong Kong's Foreign Correspondents' Club said in a statement that adopting "Mainland China's broad notions of national security and state secrets' could open up reporters to prosecution for normal journalistic activities" and "possibly spark an exodus of journalists and news organisations among other dire effects on the territory."
Other critics of the proposed legislation include Bishop Zen of the Hong Kong Catholic Church, who has voiced fears that Article 23 will be used to curb religious freedom and suppress Falun Gong , Dr Frances D'Souza, who helped devise the Johannesburg Principle which is regarded as the standard for the protection of freedoms in the context of national security laws, als expressed concerns about the controversial legislation.
"There is no question that this proposed legislation threatens individual liberties in a profound and sustained way," D'Souza, who is visiting the territory, told reporters. Banker and local legislator David Li has said the financial community is fearful the laws would restrict the free flow of information in the territory.
Beijingęs Chief Executive Tung Chee-Hwa, and his appointees, have been feverishly issuing 'guarantees' that nothing will change. However, let us not forget that China guaranteed not to change anything in the SAR for 50 years following the 1997 hand-over. That promise has already been broken, so it is hardly surprising that assurances from Mr Tung and Ms Ip have been met with scepticism.
Michael Pearson-Smith, PhD.
Contributed writer to Australian Falun Dafa Information Centre.
Posting date: 11/Dec/2002
Original article date: 10/Dec/2002
Category: Open Forum