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HK officials clarify fallacies over legislation of Article 23

New offenses added to address specific national security risks faced by city

By Xi Tianqi in Hong Kong | China Daily | Updated: 2024-02-02 09:45

Officials from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region on Wednesday debunked circulating rumors surrounding the legislation of Article 23 of the Basic Law, and reassured the public the proposed national security ordinance, expected to be introduced this year, will not lower the threshold for convictions or enable the transfer of suspects to the Chinese mainland for trial.

Hong Kong on Tuesday began a monthlong public consultation about the legislation of Article 23, by way of introducing a new piece of legislation titled Safeguarding National Security Ordinance, which includes both newly added offenses and improvements to existing offenses.

The consultation will conclude on Feb 28.

To address any concerns or misconceptions about the legislation, Hong Kong Deputy Secretary for Justice Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan and Secretary for Security Chris Tang Ping-keung met with the media on Wednesday to clarify certain aspects of the legislative proposal.

The government also held briefing sessions with the city's members of the nation's top legislative and political advisory body on Wednesday, as well as with the financial and media sectors.

Sources told China Daily the government will brief all 470 district councilors at the government headquarters on Monday, to give them a better understanding of the legislation.

Addressing the misconception the proposed legislation would make it easier for people to be convicted, Cheung said the proposed new offenses address specific national security risks faced by Hong Kong, such as the acts that endangered national security during the period of social unrest in 2019.

He emphasized the proposed measures are not intended to lower the threshold for conviction, but are intended to target potential national security risks that Hong Kong may encounter.

Cheung added the principles of the rule of law, as specified in common law and the National Security Law for Hong Kong, will continue to apply to the offenses outlined in the proposed Safeguarding National Security Ordinance. Thus, the criteria for conviction in Hong Kong courts will remain unchanged, requiring the prosecution to establish the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt.

Tang dismissed claims that people who violate the proposed ordinance would be extradited to the mainland. He condemned such assertions as unfounded and said they were aimed at spreading fear among the public.

He said the only acts that would be considered theft of State secrets or espionage would be those proved to have involved unauthorized disclosure that is intended to pose a significant risk to national security.

Tang said that "external interference" refers to illegal activities carried out in collaboration with foreign entities to use improper means — such as making false statements or resorting to violence or coercion — with the intention of influencing the central government or HKSAR government in the formulation or implementation of policies, or during elections.

National security investigations often require a considerable amount of time to complete due to their complexity, and those alleged to have violated the ordinance could therefore pose a flight risk if not detained, he said. Tang noted that there is a need to review current practices and to extend the detention period of those accused, to prevent them from being able to evade justice — a move in line with other jurisdictions, he added.

Lai Tung-kwok, a lawmaker and former secretary for security, said that the document has used precise wording for offenses related to safeguarding State secrets to provide a clear account of the definition of State secrets, which has a high threshold.

He said that ordinary people generally will not come into contact with State secrets, and the newly proposed offenses mainly target those who illegally acquire, disclose or use State secrets without lawful authority.

In support of the legislation, the Hong Kong Association of China Business on Wednesday said in a statement that the legislation targets a minority of internal and external forces posing threats to national security and is crucial for maintaining prosperity, stability, and preventing foreign interference and anti-China activities.

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