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 Tuesday, 28 January, 2003, 11:08 GMT
HK concessions on subversion law
Protesters stand with their hands tied with rope
The proposed bill has attracted widespread criticism
A controversial anti-subversion bill in Hong Kong has been scaled back over fears it could threaten press freedom, the territory's leader Tung Chee-hwa said on Tuesday.

A provision dealing with the possession of seditious publications will be dropped, and a ban on access to state secrets will be scaled down, Mr Tung said.

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa
Mr Tung insists he is in tune with public opinion
"The media have expressed worries during the consultation exercise. We must allay their worries because we have no intention of undermining press freedom," he told reporters.

But activists complained the changes were largely cosmetic, and the proposed law would curb free speech and political activity.

The proposed new law is one of the most controversial issues the former British colony has addressed since it returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

State secrets

Mr Tung said the ban on unauthorised access to state information would now only apply to content obtained through criminal means, such as computer hacking, theft or bribery.

Many media outlets had expressed concern that the authorities could label any information as a "state secret", leaving journalists who criticised state policy on the wrong side of the law.

The government held a three-month public consultation on the bill late last year, and Mr Tung insists the authorities have listened closely to any concerns raised.

Hong Kong protester
Critics of the bill say freedom of speech will be curtailed
But he said most people agreed the territory had "a responsibility to safeguard our national security".

"I have full confidence that after the law is enacted, the public will find their freedoms - including freedom of speech, press, procession and assembly, which they currently enjoy - remain fully protected," he said.

Rights activists, however, are still sceptical of the proposed new law.

Law Yuk-kai, director of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, called Mr Tung's announcement a "skin-deep scaling back".

"What we are missing is the crucial part, such as whether the government would ban any organisation with links to groups that are outlawed in mainland China," he said.

Prohibiting treason

The bill is being proposed as part of the Basic Law governing Hong Kong, which was negotiated by China and Britain.

Article 23 of this law states that Hong Kong must prohibit "treason, secession, sedition and subversion against China or theft of state secrets".

People found guilty could be imprisoned for life.

The Basic Law does not define these offences, stating simply that Hong Kong must enact the requisite legislation "on its own".

Despite the heavy opposition, the government hopes to have the law in place by July, and is expected to present a draft copy of the legislation in February.

See also:

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