Bill won't hurt freedom of speech: Tam

Top News | Michael Shum 26 May 2020

Speaking against the government should not fall under the proposed national security law, but action to overthrow it would, says Tam Yiu-chung, the only Hong Kong member of the National People's Congress Standing Committee.

Tam also said mainland officers will come to Hong Kong for law enforcement when necessary, but it is too early to say if their operations will be similar to the police's special branch during colonial days.

Speaking on radio yesterday, Tam said what constitutes an offense will become clear after the proposed bill is made public.

Its legislation has sparked fears that criticism of the government or leaders constitute a breach, among other things.

But Tam said Vice Premier Han Zheng, who oversees Hong Kong and Macau affairs, stressed at a meeting with Hong Kong NPC deputies that the legislation is only aimed at a small number of people.

Tam added: "Freedom of speech is enshrined and safeguarded by the Basic Law."

He said the legislation would prevent Hong Kong from being used as a base for subversion of state power.

Tam believes the articles in the legislation will be written clearly to avoid people mistakenly breaching the law and said he suggested to Han that the NPC use the Standing Committee's website to gather opinions.

His comments were echoed by Basic Law Committee member Albert Chen Hung-yee, a pro-Beijing legal scholar, who said a person would be convicted for concrete action to subvert the government, but not for criticizing it.

On the same radio program, Chen said that under the proposed legislation, "subversion of state power" can be interpreted as including the SAR government, not just the central government.

"I think criticism and strong grievances against the SAR government should not constitute subversion. Only concrete action to overthrow the government should be regarded as a breach of the law," Chen said. He said since the specifics of the legislation have yet to be announced, it is too early and meaningless to engage in discussion about whether criticism of the government and demanding officials to step down will be prohibited.

But the Hong Kong Bar Association flagged "a number of worrying problems" regarding the plan, saying it believes Beijing has no power under the Basic Law to add the legislation into Annex III as planned. "The national security law, as proposed in the draft decision, would appear to contain matters covered by Article 23 of the Basic Law and it is within the autonomy of the HKSAR to enact the relevant laws," the association said.

"It would therefore appear that the NPCSC has no power to add the [legislation] under Annex III of the Basic Law via the mechanism provided under Article 18 of the Basic Law," it added.

The association is also troubled that the law would be enacted without public consultation.

"In the current exercise, the national security law is intended to be enacted by promulgation by the SAR government. There is no assurance that public consultation will take place at all on this vastly important legislation prior to promulgation," it said.

"This is unprecedented. The public must be allowed the opportunity to properly consider and debate proposed laws which affect their personal rights and obligations."

It added: "The Bar Association calls upon the SAR government to address the fundamental constitutional and legal concerns raised above as a matter of urgency."

Li Zhanshu, chairman of the NPCSC said it will be able to smoothly finish the legislation.

"The legislation is a major move to reassure and perfect one country, two systems which is of the interest of all Hongkongers and Chinese citizens," Li said in his work report.

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