Sedition law may not be in line with Bill of Rights, scholar argues

Local | 7 Sep 2020 1:05 pm

A legal scholar suggested that a colonial-era law against seditious speech used to arrest activist Tam Tak-chi on Sunday is too loosely-defined and may not be in line with the Hong Kong Bill of Rights or the Basic Law.
Eric Cheung, a law lecturer at the University of Hong Kong, told an RTHK radio program that the relevant legislation was enacted after the 1967 riots, but it has not been used since.
Raising "discontent or disaffection" among the people of Hong Kong could be regarded as having a "seditious intention” under the law – which Cheung says could cover many remarks.
He said heated arguments between people who hold opposing views could easily fall under this category, but added that it appears that police only target anti-government voices.
The scholar added that the law was enacted at a time before laws protecting human rights and free speech were put in place, meaning it is unlikely the statute is in line with the Bill of Rights or the Basic Law.
Cheung added that while critics may say freedom of speech is not absolute, this right cannot be exploited via overly broad legislation.
If any freedom is to be restricted, he said, the law must make this abundantly clear, and the curbs have to be reasonable so as to not confuse the public or cause a chilling effect.
Also speaking on the same program was executive councillor and senior counsel Ronny Tong, who said he does not think the offense violates human rights as it is stated in the International Bill of Human Rights that people’s speech could be restricted by law.
Tong said the court would strike a balance between the restrictions and people’s freedoms.
When asked if strong criticism of the government would constitute an offense, he said it wasn't difficult to understand what incites hatred.
He said he did not think calling for the resignation of the Chief Executive would break the law, but people who say they wish that entire police families would die – a chant often heard at anti-government protests – is spreading hatred.
The discussion followed the arrest on Sunday of People Power vice-chairman Tam Tak-chi, who was accused of inciting hatred and contempt against the government at street booths across Hong Kong between June and August.

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