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HONG KONG

Limits Enacted on Hong Kong Rights

Legislation: Beijing-appointed body votes strictures on protests and political fund-raising. Democratic leaders cry foul.

June 15, 1997|MAGGIE FARLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HONG KONG — Fulfilling China's promise to roll back liberties brought to Hong Kong by its last British governor, the Beijing-picked Provisional Legislature voted Saturday to limit protests and political fund-raising after the colony reverts to Chinese rule.

The long-debated moves, which will not formally become law until China resumes sovereignty July 1, drew immediate criticism from Hong Kong's democratic leaders, who called them a sign of things to come.

"These changes to our laws represent a step backward for freedom and will revive colonial restrictions on basic rights," Democratic Party leader Martin Lee said. He specifically objected to the use of "national security" as a reason to ban demonstrations and political groups, saying it is a concept "open to interpretation and political censorship."

The Provisional Legislature, which will replace Hong Kong's elected body after the hand-over, also prepared laws banning the defacement of the Chinese flag.

The laws are meant to keep Hong Kong from becoming a base for groups trying to undermine Chinese Communist rule, according to the territory's incoming chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa.

Although Tung said last week that rallies like the 50,000-strong crowd that gathered June 4 to remember pro-democracy demonstrators who were killed in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests should still be allowed, he said they must be more subdued in the future.

Under the new laws, protest symbols that marked the recent rally--such as an apparently bloody Chinese flag, a slogan-emblazoned coffin symbolizing the death of democracy, or chants criticizing China's government--could bring jail terms and fines.

"We need to have some kind of restrictions on personal freedoms," Wong Siu-yee of the incoming legislature told reporters Saturday, "and the bills achieve that."

Earlier last week, the Democratic Party, which holds the majority of seats in the current legislature, filed a lawsuit to prevent the Provisional Legislature from acting as a shadow lawmaking body before it formally takes office. But the lawsuit was thrown out by a Supreme Court judge who said it was "political" and that to pursue it before the hand-over would be a waste of time and money.

"Judges must stand back in this time of political conflict," Justice Raymond Sears said. He hinted, however, that after July 1, courts will entertain further challenges.

The United States and Britain have refused to recognize the Provisional Legislature, which is due to be installed in the early hours of July 1, 90 minutes after the official change of sovereignty. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who are to attend the hand-over ceremony, have said they will boycott the legislature's swearing-in.

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