Wednesday September 25, 3:23 PM

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong's planned anti-subversion law could be abused to snuff out free speech and other civil liberties in the free-wheeling former British colony, many local newspapers said on Wednesday.

They questioned whether a proposal giving police emergency entry and search powers was too far-reaching.

"Those who care about preserving civil liberties in Hong Kong should pore through the document to make sure they will not be unnecessarily reduced by the eventual legislation," said the South China Morning Post, the territory's leading English-language paper.

The Hong Kong government unveiled its planned anti-subversion law on Tuesday. Rights groups fear it could pose the most serious threat to civil liberties since the territory returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Concerned that Hong Kong will be used as a base by foreign forces to subvert the mainland, Beijing has pressured the city in recent months to get on with drafting the legislation, which the territory is required to do under its constitution.

But rights activists say it could be used against anyone China or Hong Kong's Beijing-backed government found objectionable, such as political dissidents.

The Chinese-language Hong Kong Economic Times said the proposal had some grey and contentious areas, and added that it gave police far too much power to enter and search premises.

The Democratic Party said religious groups like the Falun Gong spiritual movement were at risk. The group has been banned in China but remains legal in Hong Kong, which was promised a high degree of autonomy when Britain handed it back to China.

[...] Under the proposal, those found guilty of acts of treason, secession, subversion or sedition can be imprisoned for life. Those found guilty of inciting violence or public disorder can be jailed for up to seven years.

The government will seek public input into the proposal over the next three months before drafting the subversion bill. It will be introduced in the legislature early next year.