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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 July, 2003, 13:57 GMT 14:57 UK
Q&A: HK's anti-subversion bill
Hong Kong's Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa has said he is withdrawing a controversial security bill which triggered huge street protests. He said a new bill would not be introduced before further public consultation. BBC News Online looks at why the bill was so unpopular.

What is the anti-subversion bill?

Since Hong Kong's return from British to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, the territory has been governed according to a mini-constitution known as the Basic Law.

Article 23 of this document states that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region "shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of":

  • Treason, subversion and secession - such as intending to overthrow or intimidate the government

  • Sedition - the intentional incitement of others to commit treason, subversion or secession. This also includes publishing, selling or displaying a seditious publication

  • Theft of state secrets - including the unlawful disclosure of government information which will endanger national security

  • Foreign political organisations conducting political activities in Hong Kong

  • Political organisations inside Hong Kong establishing ties with foreign political organisations

The Hong Kong government has been constitutionally required, since 1997, to pass the necessary laws to put these prohibitions into effect.

Following a controversial consultation period and mounting criticism, it was not until this year that the government was ready to put its bill before Hong Kong's Legislative council.

But after 500,000 people took to the streets in protest, Mr Tung's majority in the council fell apart on the issue, forcing him to withdraw the bill in its current form and try again to win more public support.

What were the protesters' grievances?

Those campaigning against the bill said it posed a direct threat to political, religious and media freedoms.

Opposition groups, human rights organisations and thousands of ordinary citizens felt their rights were under threat.

In addition, critics felt Hong Kong was hurriedly pushing the bill into law without a sufficient consultation process.

What were the main areas of concern?

The most contentious part of the bill, according to human rights activists, was the power it gave the Hong Kong Government to outlaw groups already banned in mainland China.

The spiritualist Falun Gong movement was seen as one obvious target.

But activists said the bill could apply to other groups too, such as trade unions, human rights groups, and religious organisations.

The parts of the bill focusing on subversion could also have had a severe impact, critics say, possibly making it an offence to hold a peaceful demonstration.

There was also concern that the rights of journalists and non-governmental organisations could be have been under threat.

Under the bill, a person could have been found guilty of sedition if they were judged to have incited others to participate in acts of subversion.

In a similar vein, anyone wanting to expose unlawful government activities might have been at risk under the section of the bill covering the disclosure of state secrets.

Neither was a "public interest" defence included in Article 23 - an omission which was criticised by the United States.

What has been the government's view?

Originally the Hong Kong Government dismissed all these worries, insisting the bill would not infringe any of its citizens' basic rights.

But given the size of the protests - and the wavering support among pro-government politicians - it has been forced to think again.

In July, the woman who had overseen the bill's drafting - Regina Ip - resigned as Security Secretary.

Now Mr Tung has withdrawn the bill, saying he will try again to build public support, though he has not said when the process would begin.

Mr Tung is certain to have China's backing for this strategy. He and the Chinese leadership will be hoping that a fuller consultation process, and further concessions to critics, will eventually see the bill passed into law.

HK concessions on subversion law
28 Jan 03 |  Asia-Pacific
US warns HK over anti-subversion law
22 Nov 02 |  Asia-Pacific
HK unveils anti-subversion law plan
24 Sep 02 |  Asia-Pacific
Fears for Hong Kong's freedom
01 Jul 02 |  Asia-Pacific

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