(Clearwisdom.net) VOA reported on December 5 that a group of law experts and people from human rights organizations around the world met in Hong Kong. Frances D'Souza, the leader of the group, expressed her concern that the Hong Kong government's implementation of Article 23 of the Basic Law would hinder personal freedom as well as access to information.

D'Souza said, "The consultation document published by the Hong Kong government regarding the implementation of Article 23 of the Basic Law is not a very good document. It contains very big loopholes and conflicting information. Should this document be used as the basis for legislation, the Hong Kong people will be living in a country ruled by the police." She thought the Hong Kong government should refer to the Johannesburg Principles when implementing Article 23 in order to safeguard human rights and free access to information in Hong Kong.

The Johannesburg Principles

Regina Ip, Secretary for Security in Hong Kong, met with D'Souza on December 4. Ms. Ip said that the Hong Kong government's definition of state security met standard of the International Human Rights Agreement, whereas there was no country in the world that had accepted the Johannesburg Principles. The Johannesburg Principles were established in 1995 by over thirty international law scholars, human rights experts, judges, and lawyers. The sixth principle of the Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information states:

Expressions that May Threaten National Security. Subject to Principles 15 and 16, expressions may be punished as a threat to national security only if a government can demonstrate that:

  1. the expression is intended to incite immediate violence;
  2. the expression is likely to incite such violence; and
  3. there is a direct and immediate connection between the expression and the likelihood of occurrence of such violence.

Law Yuk-kai, Director of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, indicated that the reason the Hong Kong government refused to apply the Johannesburg Principles was because many suggestions in the consultation document for Article 23 of the Basic Law violated the Johannesburg Principles. He said, " If we compare the government's suggestions to the Johannesburg Principles, it is not difficult to find that our government's many suggestions contradict these principles. Therefore, the Hong Kong government explicitly said that it was not willing to accept the principles."

Media Reports Are To Be Restricted

Law Yuk-kai gave the following example: "Although a magazine has a provocative nature, the actions of possessing or spreading this kind of magazine do not involve violent behavior. It would be against the Johannesburg Principles should one list the above actions as a punishable crime." He worried that the implementation of Article 23 would hinder access to information. He said, "The consultation document of Article 23 clearly states that anyone would be committing a crime if he or she illegally exposes any information that the government has chosen to censor."

Law Yuk-kai said that when publishing information from professionals or scholars that relates to the government, it is difficult for newspapers and magazines to know whether the release of the information is approved by the government. He said, "If [the media] reports the information, they might be committing a crime. Therefore under this kind of law, the best thing for them to do, of course, is to not report the sensitive information."

Law Yuk-kai thought that this situation imposed a great threat to the Hong Kong public's right to information. The Hong Kong government may interpret some important matters as secrets and wouldn't want them revealed, especially any information exposing the government's crimes or other scandals. The public's right to know would be severely damaged. The Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor suggests that the government should implement the Sunlight Law in order for the public to freely obtain information from the media and to guarantee access to information.