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Hong Kong to Soften Subversion Bill

January 29, 2003|From Times Wire Services

HONG KONG — Officials in Hong Kong said Tuesday that they would scrap or tone down parts of a controversial anti-subversion bill after public protests, but critics said the legislation still could be used to muzzle dissent.

The legislation, required by Hong Kong's mini-constitution, has stirred up one of the territory's biggest political fights since its handover from British to Chinese control in 1997. Protests have attracted tens of thousands of people who fear the law could be used against anyone critical of the territorial government or Beijing.

Secretary for Security Regina Ip said the government would make nine major changes to the law, which has drawn fire from lawmakers, human rights activists, business leaders, foreign governments, journalists and residents.

Under the legislation, people found guilty of acts of treason, sedition, secession from or subversion against the mainland government could be imprisoned for life.

The changes include clearer wording and narrower definitions in some provisions.

For example, officials will remove a provision outlawing possession of seditious materials, because journalists worried they could be prosecuted for reporting information not released officially by the government.

But Ip insisted that the government was not caving in.

"We are being very lenient and we are being very reasonable," she said. "We are not talking about concessions. It is clarification."

Lau Yuk Kai, director of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, called the changes "a bit cosmetic" and said that "basically, the substantive things have not changed."

Edward Chan, chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Assn., agreed. "The proposal represents an improvement ... but we are not completely satisfied."

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