8 April 1998

Appointed Legislature Exempts Mainland Organizations from Hong Kong Laws

The appointed Provisional Legislature on Tuesday night passed into law the so-called Adaptation of Laws bill, which permanently places China's Xinhua News Agency and other Chinese bodies above Hong Kong law. The Beijing-appointed legislature was wound up today ahead of the May 24 Legislative Council elections.

In unusual circumstances, the bill was rushed through the unelected legislature with all three readings in a single session -- despite the condemnation of the Bar Association, the Law Society, the Human Rights Monitor, Human Rights Watch, Hong Kong's top legal experts, the Hong Kong section of the International Commission of Jurists and pro-democracy political elected leaders. The bill, which was passed 46-6, will be back-dated to July 1, so that Xinhua, which had failed to comply with Hong Kong's Privacy Ordinance, has now committed no violation of Hong Kong law.

Martin Lee commented:

"This is a dark day for the rule of law in Hong Kong. This legal exclusion represents the most serious threat since the handover to the rule of law in Hong Kong and the core principle that no individual or organization shall be above the law. This law " which unnecessarily gives away Hong Kong's autonomy, begets two standards of justice in Hong Kong and invites violation from Mainland bodies " would never have been passed by a legislature elected by the people of Hong Kong.

When I was on the Basic Law Drafting committee, Hong Kong drafters feared just such immunity and the potential for abuse it would create. Thus we ensured Article 22 of the Basic Law states that all central government offices shall abide by the laws of the Region.' The new exemption of Chinese state bodies and their subordinate organizations from Hong Kong law violates the Basic Law, basic constitutional principles and demonstrates clearly that Mr. Tung and his administration have no respect for the rule of law."

China Given Exemptions in Hong Kong

(April 7, AAS)

HONG KONG (AP) - Despite an outcry from pro-democracy groups, Hong Kong lawmakers today exempted the Chinese state and post-colonial Hong Kong government from some privacy and anti-discrimination laws.

Though the exemptions also applied to the British crown and the colonial government, critics worry that Beijing will chip away at the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong's 6.5 million people. Britain handed Hong Kong back to China last July 1.

With protesters shouting "Shameful, shameful," outside the building, the legislature passed the bill by a vote of 46-6.

The action came a day before the unelected, temporary legislature disbands. The government rejected calls from human rights activists and political parties pushing for democracy to leave the bill for a new legislature that will be elected May 24.

Among those who have criticized the bill were Hong Kong's bar association, human rights groups and some political parties.

Under the law, mainland Chinese agencies in Hong Kong are exempt from at least 17 laws, including privacy and anti-discrimination laws, legal experts say. The issue is especially sensitive because one of the mainland organizations covered under the exemption - the state-owned Xinhua news agency - is believed by many to be the headquarters of the Chinese Communist Party.

Since the law is retroactive to the July 1 handover, Xinhua is off the hook for allegedly having breached a privacy law. The agency responded late to a pro-democracy activist's demand for the file she claims it has on her, and then said it had no file.

Other mainland state agencies covered include the Chinese Foreign Ministry office and the People's Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong.

Justice officials say the amendments are "purely technical" and part of the decolonialization process.

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