Hong Kong Journalists Association, International Federation of Journalists and Independent Commentators Association have jointly put forward our comments on the Second Reading of the Draft National Security Law to the Law Committee of the National People’s Congress of China today. We concern the proposed legislation had probably put too much emphasis on “national security” at the expenses of some universally accepted principles.
The Human Development Report 1994 compiled by the United Nations Development Program says that “It is now time to make a transition from the narrow concept of national security to the all-encompassing concept of human security”. Similar concept was also enshrined in The Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information (The Johannesburg Principles), which was endorsed in 1995.
In order to prevent the new National Security Law from being a tool of human rights abuses, the Hong Kong Journalists Association, International Federation of Journalists and Independent Commentators Association called for the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China, the executive arm of the Chinese legislature, to make necessary changes with reference to The Johannesburg Principles and UN documents. It is also held that the Chinese authorities should establish a statutory body to uphold the constitution. This organ will serve to safeguard national security while genuinely taking human rights and civil rights into consideration.
It is noted that Hong Kong , the Special Administrative Region which enjoy “one country, two systems” treatments since 1997, was being included for the first time in the proposed legislation, which is unusual and is possibly a departure of the spirit of “two systems”.
Article 11 of the bill says: “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China, all state organs and armed forces, all political parties and mass organizations, enterprises, public institutions and organizations, all have the responsibility and obligation to maintain national security.
The sovereignty and territorial integrity of China cannot be divided. Maintenance of national sovereignty and territorial integrity is a shared obligation of all the Chinese people, including compatriots from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. “
And Article 36 of the bill reads: “All levels of local people’s congress and standing committees of people’s congresses at the county level or above ensure compliance with and enforcement of national security laws and regulations within that administrative region.
Local people’s governments at all levels follow laws and regulations to manage national security work in that administrative region.
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and Macao Special Administrative Region shall fulfill responsibilities for the maintenance national security.”
The three groups believed that most of the above wordings should be simply dropped as the Basic Law of both Hong Kong and Macau has already provisions on national security. The proposed legislation can however mentions the role of Hong Kong provided that it recognizes the importance of the Basic Law. Hence, the last sentence of Article 36 shall be modified as follows: “The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and Macao Special Administrative Region shall maintain national security in accordance with the provisions of the Basic Law.”
In addition, Article 42 of the Hong Kong Basic Law says that “Hong Kong residents and other persons in Hong Kong shall have the obligation to abide by the laws in force in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.” However, under the spirit of “one country, two systems”, it is simply not right that the Chinese legislation has tried to override the Hong Kong Basic Law, the so-called “little constitution”, and redefine the obligation of Hong Kong people with an ordinary national law.
Article 36 of the bill has failed to provide a distinction between the obligation of Hong Kong government from their mainland counterpart, which will apparently blur the boundary of “one country, two systems”. It will also spark worries and fear among Hong Kong people. It is worried that under the excuse of “safeguarding national security”, Hong Kong government will be forced to execute the following undertakings:
– Outlaw some groups in Hong Kong which is operating legally in the territory but is considered illegal by the mainland authorities
– Blacklisting certain people from immigrating or emigrating
– Submitting sensitive information from the HKSAR government or leaking sensitive information related to some special HKSAR residents
– Implementing new policies to cope with the idea of “cyberspace sovereignty” suggested by Article 26 of the bill
– Cracking down on the so-called “negative cultural seepage” and “cult organizations” as suggested by Article 20 and Article 22 of the bill.
In addition, the groups also expressed grave concerns over the bill’s impact on journalists.
Article 2 of the bill says that “National security is the relative absence of international or domestic threats to the state’s power to govern, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity”. In the Chinese case, “the state’s power to govern” is referring to both the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese Government. This lack of distinction has always led to the arrest and purge of journalists. The groups believe that article 2 of the bill can be rephrased as ““National security is the relative absence of international or domestic threats to sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity”.
The groups believed that Article 20, which calls for ideological control using legislative means, can hurt and sabotage express freedom and should be erased. And Article 20 calls for “defending and resisting against negative cultural seepage”, which is potentially very dangerous for journalists since one of their tasks is to report new ideas or happenings. It is especially damaging as the term “negative cultural seepage” is not clearly defined and the interpretation subject to personal judgment of powerful Chinese officials.
Article 26 of the bill put forward the idea of “maintaining cyberspace sovereignty”, which is potentially very disturbing for journalists. The daily routine of journalists like interviewing sensitive people via the internet or collecting different opinions can all be envisaged as violating the law.
The Second Reading of the Draft National Security Law is conducting a public consultation from 6 May to 5 June 2015.
We urge the Standing Committee of National People’s Congress of China to adopt our submission to amend relevant clauses accordingly.
There was previously another National Security Law. Passed by the Chinese legislature in 1993 and essentially dealed with espionage crimes, the law was declared obsolete when a Counter-espionage Law came into effect in November 2014. The new National Security Law was reportedly influenced by Secretary-general of the ruling Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping.
Hong Kong Journalists Association
International Federation of Journalists
Independent Commentators Association