Editorial : New Attempt to Enact Article 23 Legislation

【明報專訊】LEGISLATION OF ARTICLE 23 OF THE BASIC LAW will be enacted this year. At a Legislative Council question and answer session, the Chief Executive mentioned that a special team would be set up to carry out explanations and rebut erroneous views.

Article 23 of the Basic Law stipulates that the HKSAR 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 organisations or bodies from conducting political activities in the Region, and to prohibit political organisations or bodies of the Region from establishing ties with foreign political organisations or bodies''. Of these "seven crimes", the offences of treason and sedition are currently mainly dealt with under the sedition provisions of the Crimes Ordinance.

The Hong Kong National Security Law implemented in 2020 covers four categories of crimes, namely secession, subversion of state power, terrorist activities and collusion with foreign countries or external forces to endanger national security. Of them, the crime of terrorist activities is not among the "seven crimes" listed in Article 23 of the Basic Law. It is believed that the upcoming Article 23 legislation will focus on crimes not yet covered by the Hong Kong National Security Law.

Article 23 legislation is a constitutional responsibility that the SAR must fulfil. However, it has been delayed for 26 years and has yet to be completed. In 2002, the SAR government published a consultation document on Article 23 legislation, and society was engulfed in ceaseless arguments. The next year July 1, 500,000 people took to the streets to protest the draft bill, forcing the government to withdraw it. After that, Article 23 legislation became a kind of "political taboo" that could not be touched. It was not until the anti-amendment protests broke out in 2019 and the central government enacted the Hong Kong National Security Law the next year that Article 23 legislation was put on the agenda again.

The government said earlier that it would enact Article 23 legislation this year. Yesterday (25 Jan), Chief Executive John Lee attended the Legislative Council QA Session. Even though he did not provide a concrete legislative schedule, he stated that preparations for Article 23 legislation have entered the final stage, expressing hope that the legislative work could be completed as soon as possible so that the government could then make an all-out effort to improve the economy. Judging from what John Lee has said, it is believed that the draft bill will soon be unveiled officially.

Over 20 years ago, when all sectors of society debated Article 23 legislation, there were no problems such as social media, fake news or false information, nor was there the Hong Kong National Security Law. Now that the government is reintroducing Article 23 legislation, it inevitably needs to adapt to the new situation and consider how Article 23 legislation will be in tune and compatible with the Hong Kong National Security Law. After all, the Hong Kong National Security Law is a national law introduced into Hong Kong by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress by way of Annex III of the Basic Law, and local legislation in the SAR cannot conflict with it.

Back in 2003, when the government promoted Article 23 legislation, it stated that national security charges could be tried by jury in the Court of First Instance. Now is a different time. The Hong Kong National Security Law has established a system of designated judges. It is believed that this practice will be followed in the new Article 23 legislative draft bill.

John Lee has mentioned the creation of a task force providing explanations on Article 23 legislation. The government should take the initiative and contact foreign academic institutions, investment funds, multinational enterprises, etc., and actively provide explanations to avoid misunderstandings.

明報社評2024.01.26:23條立法再出發 兼顧一國與兩制









■ Glossary 生字 /

rebut : to say or prove that a statement or criticism is false

erroneous : not correct; based on wrong information

implement : to make something that has been officially decided start to happen or be used

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