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Taipei, March 1, 2024—The Hong Kong government must immediately halt plans to introduce new national security legislation that could strangle the city’s news industry by introducing new offenses including “acts of seditious intention” and “theft of state secrets,” the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.

On January 30, Hong Kong’s security bureau published a “public consultation document” on proposals to introduce a new domestic security law to add new offenses, extrajudicial detention, and harsher penalties to existing laws. It invited the public to comment by February 28.

Journalists, human rights advocates, and legal experts have expressed concern that the proposed legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law could lead to the suppression of human rights, including press freedom, and to the prosecution of journalists.

The proposal includes several new offenses of “treason, insurrection, incitement to mutiny and disaffection, and acts with seditious intention,” “theft of state secrets and espionage,” and “external interference” that would make reporting corruption, politics, and other stories of public interest, as well as working for foreign news outlets a potential offense, according to CPJ’s review.

“With no mention of safeguarding mechanisms for journalists and the overly broad definition of offenses relating to ‘seditious intention’ and ‘state secrets’ the public consultation document already serves to intimidate and further silence Hong Kong’s troubled press,” said Iris Hsu, CPJ’s China representative. “If Hong Kong authorities pass the proposed legislation, it would only further damage the region’s already endangered press freedom.”

On February 19, 86 nonprofit and human rights organizations issued a joint statement condemning Hong Kong authorities’ “vague” proposals as criminalizing human rights, including the right to the freedom of the press. It highlighted the crime of “seditious intention” as proposing “to punish those who ‘induce … disaffection against’ against the Chinese government.”

In response, the Hong Kong government said the rights groups exposed “their sheer hypocrisy and double standards” as similar provisions were present in U.K. legislation.

“Making reasonable and genuine criticisms of government polices based on objective facts, pointing out issues or offering views for improvement will not violate offenses relating to sedition intention,” it said.

A survey by the Hong Kong Journalists Association of 160 of its members and media workers found that 100% believed that the legislation would negatively impact press freedom.

On Thursday, the Hong Kong government closed the public comment period and said that almost 99% of the 13,147 respondents supported the proposed legislation, without providing further details.

Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997 with the guarantee of a high degree of autonomy, including freedom of speech, under a “one country, two systems” formula.

China is the world’s largest jailer of journalists, according to CPJ’s annual prison census, with at least 44 journalists in prison for their work as of December 1, 2023.

Jimmy Lai, a pro-democracy Hong Kong tycoon and founder of the shuttered pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, has been behind bars since 2020 and is facing life imprisonment if convicted of conspiring to collude with foreign forces.  

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee’s office did not immediately respond to CPJ’s email request for comment.


This content originally appeared on Committee to Protect Journalists and was authored by Committee to Protect Journalists.

Citations

[1] Safeguarding National Security: Basic Law Article 23 Legislation - Safeguarding National Security Ordinance and other relevant documents ➤ https://www.sb.gov.hk/eng/bl23/consultation.html[2] Public consultation on Basic Law Article 23 legislation commences ➤ https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/202401/30/P2024013000296.htm[3] Basic Law - Basic Law - Chapter II (EN) ➤ https://www.basiclaw.gov.hk/en/basiclaw/chapter2.html[4] Hong Kong: Governments Should Oppose Security Bill | Human Rights Watch ➤ https://www.hrw.org/news/2024/02/19/hong-kong-governments-should-oppose-security-bill[5] HKSAR Government strongly condemns and opposes deliberate smearing and irresponsible statement by "Hong Kong Watch" and other organisations on Basic Law Article 23 legislation ➤ https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/202402/20/P2024022000596.htm?fontSize=1[6] (PUBLIC) 香港記者協會就《基本法》二十三條立法意見書 HKJA Submission on Basic Law Article 23 Legislation - Google Docs ➤ https://docs.google.com/document/d/1mHHD1LYs-ZvBfdMuipO_NMKq53uo0iRoNgqk_EGpG5k/edit?fbclid=IwAR3UVgMSQX_9orGE6MmlKH-lHyI0AON1-pVmjOR95dzYA_OGi-fQRiPa4ik[7] Public consultation on Basic Law Article 23 legislation concluded ➤ https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/202402/29/P2024022900287.htm[8] 2023 prison census: Jailed journalist numbers near record high; Israel imprisonments spike - Committee to Protect Journalists ➤ https://cpj.org/reports/2024/01/2023-prison-census-jailed-journalist-numbers-near-record-high-israel-imprisonments-spike/[9] Jimmy Lai - Committee to Protect Journalists ➤ https://cpj.org/awards/jimmy-lai/[10] Hong Kong police charge Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai with ‘foreign collusion’ under national security law - Committee to Protect Journalists ➤ https://cpj.org/2020/12/hong-kong-police-charge-apple-daily-founder-jimmy-lai-with-foreign-collusion-under-national-security-law/