Enact security laws step by step

South China Morning Post | EDT4 | EDT | politics | By Kimmy Chung

Former justice chief Elsie Leung says government must take lessons from failure of Article 23 legislation in 2003. A former justice secretary said yesterday that a highly controversial national security law should be enacted "step by step", taking lessons from the failure to pass the law in 2003 after a huge street protest.

The remarks by Basic Law Committee vice-chairwoman Elsie Leung Oi-sie were made two weeks before chief executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor takes office on July 1, the 20th anniversary of the city's handover.

Leung said it was "very unsatisfactory" that Hong Kong had failed to fulfil its mission to enact a law against treason, sedition, secession and subversion under Article 23 of the Basic Law, the city's mini-constitution.

The issue became highly sensitive after some 500,000 protesters took to the streets in 2003, fearing the law would endanger various freedoms. The government later withdrew the bill.

As justice secretary at the time, Leung was heavily involved in lobbying for the legislation.

She admitted that the scope of the law proposed by the government was "too broad in one go", and said a future leader should therefore take a step-by-step approach to promoting it.

"Separate it into different laws and enact them one by one ... Let the public digest them slowly before getting them passed," Leung told i-Cable.

Leung said current security laws were outdated and that the government should not wait until someone commits treason to strengthen them.

Former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing agreed that enacting Article 23 legislation was one of three key problems that had to be solved before the city could achieve a successful "one country, two systems" model.

"In these more than 10 years, no one from the Hong Kong or Beijing governments has said we have to [enact Article 23] immediately," Tsang told a forum discussing the future of Hong Kong after 2047 - the year that Beijing's promises under "one country, two systems" expire.

The other challenges were bringing in universal suffrage and building national identity among Hongkongers, he said. Tsang said there were no immediate solutions to the three challenges, but the next five to 10 years would be a crucial period for the future direction of the city's special governing formula.

Another speaker, veteran pro-democracy politician Martin Lee Chu-ming, said human rights should be protected amid concern that Beijing may interpret Article 23 "in its own way" once the law is enacted.