The Hong Kong government delayed a vote on the controversial National Security (Legislative Provisions) Bill that was scheduled for its second and third reading in the Legislative Council (Legco) on July 9, 2003, after a member of the Executive Council (Exco), or cabinet, resigned suddenly on the night of Sunday July 6 over the governments initial refusal to postpone the vote. The governments proposed national security legislation would implement Article 23 of the Basic law, Hong Kongs mini-Constitution, which calls for the Hong Kong government to enact laws “on its own” against treason, secession, sedition, subversion and the theft of state secrets.
The governments proposed legislation, however, sparked a massive demonstration of more than 500,000 people on July 1, the sixth anniversary of the transfer of Hong Kongs sovereignty from Britain to China (please see UA-28-2003: HONG KONG: Preserve Hong Kongs Freedoms, Withdraw Article 23 Legislation at <http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2003/479/>). People demonstrated not only against the contents of the legislation, which people from many sectors of the community feared would erode their rights and the rule of law, but also against the process in which the legislation was presented to the community, for the demonstrators felt that the Hong Kong government had not listened to their views. Moreover, people protested against the rapid pace in which the government wanted to pass such important legislation by July 9less than nine months after the government introduced a consultation document on Article 23 in September of last year.
The governments decision to enact the legislation on July 9, however, was derailed when James Tien Pei-chun, the leader of the pro-business Liberal Party, resigned from Exco. His resignation meant that the government did not have the votes to pass the legislation, and consequently, the government withdrew the bill for its second and third reading on July 9.
The Hong Kong governments decision, however, does not mean that the Article 23 issue has been satisfactorily resolved, for the government has only temporarily withdrawn the legislation. It remains to be seen whether the government has learned one of the lessons of the July 1 demonstration to truly listen to the views of the people of Hong Kong and that, as a result, it will make further amendments to the bill that adequately address their concerns.
Further updates will be provided as developments unfold in Hong Kong.
Urgent Appeals Desk
Asian Human Rights Commission
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