Hong Kong: No to Article 23!
Tuesday, 24 August 2010.
J. M. Roy, Socialist Action, Hong Kong
The previous day, the Chinese government's propaganda minister in Hong Kong, Hao Tiechuan, once again raised the issue of the controversial Article 23 "security law". Socialist Action members took part in the protest against the revival of Article 23. No doubt at the behest of the Beijing government, police outnumbered protesters by three to one.
Protesters raised a white sheet in front of the Liaison Office as the police tried to pull it down. In a comedic moment the police claimed that it was blocking their view, while 15 of their colleagues stood on the other side and two separate groups of officers were filming proceedings.
To loud cheers, Socialist Action denounced Article 23 and called for genuine democracy in Hong Kong. To highlight how ridiculous Article 23 is, as Socialist Action has connections to an international organisation (CWI), if Article 23 ever comes to pass, all those present at the protest would have been guilty of treason.
Article 23 states: "The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People's Government, or theft of state secrets, to prohibit foreign political organizations or bodies from conducting political activities in the Region, and to prohibit political organizations or bodies of the Region from establishing ties with foreign political organizations or bodies."
In 2003 The Hong Kong government tried to introduce Article 23 into the Basic Law (local constitution) in Hong Kong. Public opposition was overwhelming. 500,000 people took to the streets in the biggest mass demonstration to take place in the territory. Faced with such overwhelming opposition, the government was forced to temporarily shelve the legislation. Several ministers linked to the proposed legislation, including the then Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwah, were forced to resign.
Until this week, Beijing has refrained from commenting on the issue. Speaking at a meeting of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, Hao Tiechuan perhaps said too much when questioned about the possibility of reintroducing the legislation when he told the gathered journalists, "In time of crises in social order, resolution of the crisis and restoration of order is the top priority... Assisting the government in crisis management measures is the top priority of the media and monitoring the government comes second."
His comments should come as no surprise, coming from the mouthpiece of the Beijing government who practice complete control over all media on the mainland. However, the fact that they have chosen this moment to once again raise the issue shows that they are testing the waters for a second attempt at introducing Article 23.
As Hong Kong has become more and more politicised in recent years, so has the Hong Kong government been acting more and more directly on behalf of the Beijing government.
On several occasions people have been arrested for merely protesting outside the Liaison Office. Members of Falun Gong, a religious sect, union leaders and Legco members have all been arrested and charged by the Hong Kong authorities at the behest of Beijing.
Article 23 is a particularly worrying piece of legislation because it would give the government carte blanche to arrest and detain anyone. It is Orwellian in its wording. When 'subversion' is a criminal offence then opinions become 'thought crimes'. Freedom of speech will disappear. Co-operating with international unions, aid agencies or other international organizations will become acts of treason.
This is exactly how Beijing deals with critics at home. Talking about the June 4 massacre will get you arrested. Parents who criticised the construction of 'tofu schools' which led to the deaths of so many in the Sichuan earthquake have been rounded up and silenced. These are the measures that could become law even in Hong Kong if Article 23 is enacted.
Although Hao Tiechuan's comments are not surprising on their own, what should worry people is the response of the Hong Kong government. They ranged from blatant support of the legislation by Legco member Peter Wong Man Kong who stated "there is a need for an anti-subversion law in Hong Kong" to others who limited themselves to proposing a discussion on the bill. Legco president Tsang Yok Sing was among the latter. This was echoed by other legislators as well as a government spokesman who stated that Article 23 "was not a priority at the present". It is quite obvious from this statement that the government is merely waiting for the right conditions before reviving the bill.
Another Democratic Party betrayal?
In particular, the Hong Kong and central governments are testing out the response of leaders of the Democratic Party, which recently broke with other pan-democratic parties to support the government's far-from-democratic electoral reform plan. The Democrats have staked everything on "negotiations" with Beijing, a one-sided process in which the dictatorship plans to extract concessions from this party of former critics in return for very little other than a seat at the "negotiations" themselves. Beijing has already put out feelers to see whether the Democratic Party's legislators could be induced to support a modified version of Article 23. There are signs that at least some legislators are willing to do this. Only massive mobilisations, along the lines of the 2003 movement, and a rejection of Democratic Party candidates at the polls in favour of LSD candidates who are commited to opposing this and other undemocratic legislation can defeat this threat.
Hong Kong and the Chinese government are not unique in this respect. We have seen similar types of Orwellian bills introduced in other countries whose governments wish to gain more control over their people. From the PATRIOT act in the US, which enables the government to tap citizens' telephones, to anti-terror legislation in the UK which has led to police confiscating the cameras of journalists covering demonstrations.
Article 23 is a completely unacceptable piece of legislation and we should not stand by while unelected politicians try to force it upon us. Benjamin Franklin once said "Those who would sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither". If article 23 ever becomes law, Hong Kong will have neither.
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