RTHK "Letter to Hong Kong"

by Martin Lee

Broadcasted on 12 November 2000 on Radio 3, Radio Television Hong Kong

The government announced that it would be moving a motion in the Legislative Council, for the 22nd November this year, and the motion reads as follows: That this Council considers that the Public Order Ordinance's existing provisions relating to the regulation of public meetings and public processions reflect a proper balance between protecting the individual's right to freedom of expression and right of peaceful assembly and a broader interest of the community at large, and that there is a need to preserve these provisions.

The spokesman noted that during the past few weeks there has been an intensified debate in the community on the provisions of the Public Order Ordinance and whether they would require amendments. Then there is a quote from the spokesman: "We believe that a full debate in Legco will allow a frank exchange of views on this issue. This would be conducive to enhancing mutual understanding and allaying any misconceptions and anxieties on the relevant issues in question," he concluded.

Well I couldn't believe that this government can be so stupid. I have never come across any government anywhere in the world which goes to its legislature asking the legislature to say that an existing law is good and therefore should be preserved. Presumably, if the law is good you will never have to go to your legislature for endorsement. What will the rest of the world think of this Hong Kong government and of this legislature that we have in Hong Kong, particularly if, as I expect, the majority of the legislators will indeed endorse this motion?

What about the other 1165 ordinances that are on our statute books? If we do not endorse them again, would people think that we, the legislature, think that they are no longer good and deserve to be preserved? I'm afraid this government has made Hong Kong the laughing stock in the eyes of the civilized communities all over the world.

But this is not the only problem about this motion. The press statement itself is full of contradictions. Well the government first of all acknowledged that there had been an intensive debate in the community on the issue as to whether or not the provisions of this Ordinance ought to be amended. Then it says that the government believes that a full debate in Legco will allow a frank exchange of views on this issue. What's happening in the legislature is that we would like a serious debate indeed on this issue, but we would like to do it in one of our panels - the Security Panel.

The advantage of having a discussion in the panel is that legal experts will be invited by both sides no doubt. University professors and lecturers will be invited. Representatives of the Bar and the Law Society will be represented and other interested groups in the community will all be invited to join in and we will only make up our minds after having the benefit of all their views. But this is not to be, because the government wants this Legco already to vote on this motion on the 22nd of November. What happens in Legco is known to most of our listeners already. Of course, the democrats, spelled with a small "d," will be opposing it because we want change and the

government will no doubt work very hard on the other legislators in getting their support on a motion which they might not like to support. And if the government gets its way, after a long debate, a heated debate of a few hours, the motion will be carried.

There's no doubt about that.

So how is that conducive to a "frank exchange" of views in the Council? How does it enhance "mutual understanding" or "allay" any misconceptions and anxieties? This press statement is sad really because you see such huge contradictions just in two little paragraphs in it. How can we believe our government anymore?

When the objectionable amendments were made by the provisional legislature even before the handover on the first of July 1997, at least it was understandable although I didn't agree with it at all. It was understandable because it was feared by the Chinese leaders at the time as to whether or not there would be a smooth transition at the handover and shortly thereafter. But now more than three years have elapsed since the handover and the handover could not be smoother. So there is clearly no necessity for these draconian provisions of the law to be kept in Hong Kong. There is at least a very respectable argument which is shared by the Chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association that these provisions may infringe the provisions of the Bill of Rights Ordinance or the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.

And it has also caused a lot of problems to the police because are they to enforce the law or not? If the law is so good, then clearly the police should enforce it. But lately we have seen some student leaders arrested and then released again. And we are told that there were more than three hundred occasions when the law was infringed by members of the public in that they did not give prior notice to the police when they held processions or meetings in public places. Surely we must sit down coolly and discuss all these relevant issues. If we believe, at the end of the day, that this law is no longer necessary for Hong Kong, then surely it is up to the government, if it is a responsible government, to initiate amendments to it. But if, at the end of the day, we are satisfied that certain elements of the law require to be kept but not the other parts, again the law should be changed. Of course, if we are satisfied that every bit of the law is necessary then no doubt we will decide to keep everything.

I therefore think that the only course for the government to take is to withdraw this motion and the sooner it does so, the better it is for its image, its credibility, and the credibility of Hong Kong in the eyes of our friends all over the world.


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