22 October 2016
Activists stage a protest against the national security legislation in 2003. Will Beijing resurrect the bill in the wake of the controversy over Hong Kong independence? Photo: HKEJ
Activists stage a protest against the national security legislation in 2003. Will Beijing resurrect the bill in the wake of the controversy over Hong Kong independence? Photo: HKEJ

Beijing paving the way for stricter Article 23 implementation

Amid the current debate on whether Hong Kong people should think about, read about or talk about Hong Kong independence, Beijing authorities may just push the SAR government to relaunch the process of legislating the controversial Article 23 of the Basic Law in order to force Hong Kong people to uphold the national security of the People’s Republic of China.

What we know now is that Beijing officials want to prevent Legislative Council candidates, teachers and students from discussing Hong Kong independence.

In the case of teachers, the government said they can discuss the topic in class but the most important point in the discussion should be that “Hong Kong independence is unlawful”.

If they try to discuss the topic beyond that, they may risk losing their license.

Students, on the other hand, may face pressure to quit school.

Legco candidates, of course, have to sign a declaration that they abide by the Basic Law and attest that Hong Kong is part of China.

In fact, even signing such a declaration may not be enough for a Legco aspirant to secure approval for them to run in the election, as what some independence-leaning candidates have found out.

But here’s the point: those accused of advocating independence, such as localist activist Edward Leung Tin-kei of Hong Kong Indigenous, have not taken any action to urge Hong Kong citizens to rise up against the Communist Party of China for the independence of Hong Kong.

All of them are just expressing their opinions as well as their concern that Hong Kong may lose its uniqueness by the way the One Country, Two Systems principle is being implemented.

What’s wrong with Hong Kong people showing their love for their beloved city?

Thirteen years ago, when the Tung Chee-Hwa administration was promoting the Article 23 legislation, it tried to reassure the people that the law won’t affect their freedom of expression.

On its official website promoting Article 23 in 2003, the government said:

“The right of peaceful expression of views is safeguarded by the Basic Law. Such acts will not constitute the offence of secession.

“The consultation document fully demonstrates the sincerity of the Government to safeguard human rights and freedoms in the implementation of Article 23.”

“‘Secession’ refers only to acts of exercising sovereignty relating to the nation’s unity and territorial integrity, and involves serious unlawful means such as levying war or force.

“Unless the activities involve secessionist acts of levying war, force or serious unlawful means, otherwise assemblies or demonstrations will not constitute secession.”

From such clarifications, one would think that Beijing and Hong Kong authorities will continue to uphold freedom of expression.

But now the same people are changing their tune. They are saying that Hong Kong people have no right to talk about independence and that the only right way to talk about it is to condemn it.

The government is now using the concept of Hong Kong independence as a criteria to check the loyalty of Hong Kong people.

It is now being used to screen candidates, but soon it may also be used to test the loyalty of students and civil servants.

Article 23 will be a Beijing-style legislation. It will provide no objective rule or criteria to determine whether a person is challenging Beijing’s authority or China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong.

Its only purpose is to provide a legal weapon for the authorities to suppress any perceived threat or challenge to their rule.

It is based on the authorities’ intention rather than the rule of law.

In the Legco election, the returning officers have yet to offer a convincing explanation for their decision to disqualify six people, including Edward Leung, from the race.

Now the government is turning their attention to the educational system. 

Officials have already warned schools against allowing the discussion of the independence issue in classrooms, except to portray it as an illegal and impossible concept.

The Education Bureau has also warned teachers that they may lose their registration if they try to promote the idea of independence in schools.

No less than Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying reminded teachers of their duty to guide students and to tell them what is right and wrong about the issue.

But there is no way the government can prevent the discussion of independence. It might as well ask the waves to stop from reaching the shores.

A new group called Studentlocalism has vowed to promote the discussion of independence.

Convener Eagle Cheung said the group simply wants a rational discussion of the issue, its pros and cons.

In line with this, at least 17 secondary schools have set up concern groups and will hold forums to discuss the topic after the summer holidays.

Would the students participating in these forums be warned or expelled?

If that happens, we will have a landmark case for the future implementation of Article 23.

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EJ Insight writer

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