What: Global Anti Article 23 Association - Public Rally
18 December 2002, (Sydney Falun Dafa Information Centre) - December 24 marks the end of a public appeal for the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, expression, association, and the right to peaceful assembly, currently being challenged in Hong Kong. Article 23, is a proposal for a controversial legislation to severely punish anything Beijing considers seditious, subversive or a threat to Mainland security.
However, the definition of precisely what activity would fit into these categories is disturbingly vague. Consequently, a diverse range of interest groups from financiers to Falun Gong, from the HK Bar Association to trade unionists, from democrats to journalists, are all alarmed that Article 23 could seriously undermine the basic civil liberties that HK has traditionally enjoyed.
New Zealand Justice Minister Phil Goff has also voiced concern about the possibility of HK permanent residents, who are also foreign nationals, being charged with sedition for comments made whilst in another country.
Who is at risk
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has said Article 23 would present a "grave threat to freedom of expression in Hong Kong (and) if enacted, this legislation will send a clear message to Hong Kong journalists that coverage of sensitive issues, especially Chinese politics, will no longer be encouraged or even tolerated."
On December 9, the Hong Kong Bar Association said the proposals were "based upon feudal notions of treason" that are not clear or precise enough to protect fundamental rights and freedoms. The proposal for outlawing secession "fails to recognise the possibility of a secessionist cause being a legitimate political demand in the form of an exercise by a people of the right to self-determination".
Banker David Li, who represents the banking industry in the Legislative Council (and who is a director of Dow Jones), told the American Chamber of Commerce in early December that executives from more than 10 foreign banks hoped the Hong Kong government would spell out the exact wording of the proposals. He said banks were worried about their potential to stifle the free flow of information here.
Freedom of Belief
Hong Kong guarantees freedom of religion and the Falun Gong spiritual movement can operate despite being banned on the mainland. But suppose China banned a religion on national security grounds. In the clash of freedom over national security, probably few would bet on freedom winning the day in Hong Kong.
Indeed, it has been suggested that the whole raison dřetre for suddenly rushing through this legislation, is precisely to give the Chinese President a new weapon in his irrational war against Falun Gong. The recently appointed Catholic Bishop for Hong Kong, Joseph Zen, has said the regulations currently being drawn up threaten Falun Gong's freedom to practice in the territory.
But Bishop Zen is also concerned about the future of the Catholic Church. The Vatican has relations with Taiwan, not Beijing. It also has links with an estimated 10 million members of the underground Catholic Church inside China. That might be grounds enough for it to be banned too. "If tomorrow they say the underground church in China is dangerous for the State and then they say you are the same Catholic Church, and then we are in trouble," said Bishop Zen.
An attack on freedom anywhere in the world undermines that freedom everywhere else. If enough voices are raised in opposition to Article 23 it can be stopped. If not, then the territory's days as "Pearl of the Orient" appear to be numbered.
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Posting date: 18/Dec/2002
Original article date: 18/Dec/2002
Category: Media Release