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Friday, 28 June, 2002, 10:16 GMT 11:16 UK
Fears over HK subversion law
A Chinese man walks past an advertisement highlighting the close relationship between Hong Kong and China
There are fears for Hong Kong's autonomy
Democracy activists in Hong Kong fear the territory's government could soon implement an anti-subversion law that they say could stifle free speech.

The new law would bring Hong Kong closer to China, where groups such as the Falun Gong spiritual group are banned.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa
Tung Chee-hwa is about to start a new term
Hong Kong's Justice Chief Elsie Leung has assured people that the law would not target the Falun Gong, or a pro-democracy group branded as subversive by Beijing.

But a top Chinese official has called for legislation to be brought in soon, prompting accusations from activists that Beijing was meddling in the territory's affairs.

The dispute comes as Hong Kong prepares to mark the fifth anniversary of its return to Chinese sovereignty on 1 July.

There are fears that Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa will use his second five-year term in office, which begins on Monday, to push through a bill more to Beijing's liking than to Hong Kong's democrats.

China's wishes

The Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini-constitution, provides for an anti-subversion bill to be passed, and analysts believe it will be brought in during Mr Tung's second term.

Ms Leung has said the law is needed to protect national security.

Chinese Vice-Premier Qian Qichen entered the debate earlier this week, saying Hong Kong should act soon to outlaw any acts of subversion, treason, sedition and secession.

"The anti-subversion law will cause huge problems," said Margaret Ng, a pro-democracy lawmaker. "We will be much more vulnerable once that law is passed."

According to a report in the South China Morning Post the justice secretary would not say whether the law could ban people from shouting slogans such as "down with Jiang Zemin", the Chinese president.

However, Ms Leung has insisted that "freedom of speech should be protected."

She said there would be a consultation period before the bill was introduced but she refused to talk about the timing.

See also:

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