Letter from Harrington Investments to President Bush Regarding the Article 23 of the Basic Law in Hong Kong
December 24, 2002
Mr. George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
Harrington Investments, Inc., is a registered investment advisor managing assets for individuals and institutions concerned with a social as well as financial return. My clients and I are concerned about human rights issues and labor abuses existing in China. We believe it is important for U.S. companies doing business throughout the world to ensure the human and labor rights of their workers.
I am writing to you to draw your attention to a serious matter regarding the human and labor rights that may be affected by a proposed new law in Hong Kong. Article 23 of the Basic Law, also known as the anti-subversion law, will amount to a breach of the provisions of the Joint Declaration, because it applies Mainland legal concepts to Hong Kong that are incompatible with the freedoms guaranteed under Article 3(5) in the Declaration.
For example, in the consultation document, the key offenses of treason, secession, sedition, and subversion are referred to in ambiguous terms that would allow the government to use the law as a legal weapon to deny, rather than protect, people's rights. The issue is that in a democracy, country and government are two distinct concepts, whereas in a totalitarian regime, they are treated as one. So a dissenting opinion from the government could be easily interpreted as "subversive."
One clause in the proposal proscribes any organization in Hong Kong that has been banned on national security grounds in Mainland China, without any independent investigation by the Hong Kong government, within the domain of Hong Kong. Since the definition of "national security" would be determined by Beijing, local organizations could become unlawful without any oversight or protection by the courts in Hong Kong, Therefore, this clause would negate the model, "one country, two systems." Falun Gong practitioners in Hong Kong would be subjected to arrest, torture, harassment of family members, and possibly death since the PRC puts little value on the life of a Falun Gong practitioner.
The consultation document also grants too much discretionary power to the police who can enter premises to conduct searches and seize materials merely for investigative purposes, without any warrant issued by a court of law. The proposal to widen the provisions on unlawful disclosure of information may inhibit freedom of information and the press, for what is deemed a "state secret" may, in reality, merely be a remark or decision that is politically embarrassing. While the consultation paper outlines the types of information that should not be unlawfully disclosed, it does not indicate who will make the important decisions about what specific information is a state secret. Journalists and other local and international observers have already noted a trend towards self-censorship in the Hong Kong media since 1997. The provisions of this consultation document, if enacted into legislation, will only further contribute to the decline of freedom of the press in the territory.
Additionally, it is unfortunate that the SAR Government does not intend to issue a "white bill" to set out details following the consultation period. Instead, it would only introduce a "blue bill" in the Legislative Council (Legco) and start the legislative process. I am offended that tyranny is being legitimized in a free society such as Hong Kong. I strongly urge you do everything in your power to rectify this situation. Thank you.
John C. Harrington
President & CEO