Two Statutes Worry Hong Kongers On Future Liberties Under China

Some Hong Kong laws may have to go because they conflict with the territory's post-1997 constitution, called the Basic Law, or because they apparently are politically unacceptable to China.

The Beijing-appointed Preparatory Committee, charged with managing handover details, scrutinized all 550 local ordinances and recommended that 25 of them be either scrapped or modified. That action has caused considerable unhappiness in the territory.

Some of the laws are anachronisms, such as the "Colony Armorial Bearings Ordinance," which prohibits the use of Hong Kong's royal coat of arms without permission. But other changes strike close to the heart of the colony's freedoms.

At issue are two statutes: the Public Order and the Societies Ordinances. The Preparatory Committee recommended reinstating language, repealed as recently as 1995, which would require police permits for holding demonstrations and limit the freedom of political parties to form links with foreign organizations.

Even some who normally sympathize with China's point of view say such changes are unwarranted. "I've read the Basic Law again and again, and I cannot find how it is infringed" by these statutes, claims Allen Lee a member of the provisional legislature, which will formulate replacement laws. Though the number of public protests has risen in tandem with growing tensions accompanying the transition, none has produced violence or bloodshed.

Some say that the new chief executive designate, Tung Chee Hwa, who replaces the colonial governor on July 1, was too quick to endorse the committee's proposals. Since then, he has back-pedaled somewhat, noting that what is to replace these laws will be up to his government, not China.

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