SUBMISSION TO THE UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE ON THE HONG KONG SPECIAL ADMINISTRATIVE REGION’S IMPLEMENTATION OF THE INTERNATIONAL COVENANT ON CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS
1.1 The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) notes that in January 2005, the People’s Republic of China submitted to the United Nations the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s (HKSAR) second report in the light of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The HKJA wishes to comment on this report, as it relates to freedom of expression and freedom of the press, as laid down in Article 19 of the Covenant.
1.2 In general terms, the HKJA finds that – as in our last submission to the UN Human Rights Committee in September 1999 – the judicial and political environment remains problematic. The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress has made several interpretations of the Basic Law, some pertaining to sensitive political issues.
1.3 We note that in November 1999, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed serious concern about the implications of such interpretations on the independence of the judiciary. The committee also noted a statement by the HKSAR government that it would not seek another interpretation except in highly exceptional circumstances. Regrettably, the government has sought further interpretations.
1.4 One of the most controversial concerns political development. The Standing Committee placed strict limits on the way that the HKSAR can move towards full democracy. It ruled out full democracy in 2007 and 2008, and put a halt to incremental progress towards universal suffrage, by capping the proportion of democratically elected seats in the Legislative Council at 50 percent. This latter move is contrary to Article 68 of the Basic Law, which provides for “gradual and orderly progress” towards democracy.
1.5 Such an interpretation is symptomatic of growing Chinese influence in the affairs of Hong Kong – in particular following massive pro-democracy marches in July 2003 and 2004, and the resignation of the Chief Executive, Tung Chee-hwa, in March 2005. Such interference is – in our view – in blatant disregard of promises made by the Chinese government that it would respect Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.
1.6 We now focus on specific issues relating to freedom of expression which have arisen since the HKSAR government compiled its first report on implementation of the ICCPR. Some concerns are mentioned in the HKSAR report; others are not. Where they are mentioned, we note the relevant paragraphs.
1.7 We note in particular two recent developments – a review of public broadcasting and the move to enact legislation governing interception of communications and covert surveillance. Given that they are evolving issues and there is widespread concern in media circles about these developments, the HKJA urges the UN Human Rights Committee to call for a supplementary report on Hong Kong’s implementation of the ICCPR one year after the March 2006 hearings in New York.
THREATS TO THE PUBLIC BROADCASTER (paragraph 202)
2.1 In January 2006, the administration announced that it had set up a seven-member committee to review public service broadcasting in Hong Kong, including the future role of the sole public broadcaster in Hong Kong, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK).
2.2 It should be noted that there had been no public calls for such a review prior to the announcement, although the broadcaster had faced criticism for a number of years from those close to the government in Beijing who wanted RTHK to be turned into a government propaganda arm. They focused, for example, on a TV programme, Headliner, which carried satirical comments about the former Chief Executive, Tung Chee-hwa’s administration, and programmes which they considered to be too sympathetic towards the government in Taiwan.
2.3 The review will focus on several aspects of public broadcasting, including the role and justifications for public service broadcasting, governance, funding, and ways to monitor the public broadcaster. The committee plans to submit recommendations to the government by October 2006.
2.4 Several aspects of the review give rise to concern over the future of public broadcasting in Hong Kong. First, the committee itself does not include anyone with knowledge of public service broadcasting. Five of the seven members have private-sector media experience. It could be argued that there is a conflict of interest here – insofar as public broadcasters compete with the private sector in the media industry.
2.5 Second, a government paper prepared for the review alleges that public service broadcasting is “a form of market intervention”. The argument is further made that public broadcasting distorts the market. Arguments have also been made that RTHK should not engage in programmes that are already provided by commercial broadcasters. Indeed, the Chief Executive, Donald Tsang, has argued that RTHK should not broadcast horse racing programmes and a major annual pop music show. In July 2005, the broadcaster announced that it was dropping its horse racing progammes.
2.6 The HKJA is concerned that if the government decides that RTHK should not compete in any way with commercial broadcasters and should instead focus on programmes catering to minority audiences, then it could lose its audience and become marginalised. This would have a damaging effect on media diversity in Hong Kong.
2.7 The HKJA is also concerned that efforts may be made to rein in RTHK’s editorial independence, which is currently enshrined in an administrative agreement between the broadcaster and its policy bureau (the Commerce, Industry and Technology Bureau) within the government. The government paper notes that “public service broadcasting seeks to… serve national interest while keeping its institutional independence and integrity.”
2.8 We would argue that serving the national interest is not the role of a public broadcaster. A public broadcaster should reflect the views of the community, including the government. It should not in any way serve the “national interest”, although it may reflect such an interest. In the Chinese context, this may well be equivalent to acting as a mouthpiece of the government, given the undemocratic nature of the system.
2.9 Indeed, most public broadcasters in democratic countries operate in an autonomous environment, while at the same time competing with the private sector. They are considered to be vital for putting forward a voice that is not subject to commercial or political influence. Such broadcasters also have a vital role to play in ensuring media diversity at a time when large conglomerates are playing an increasingly dominant role in the media environment.
2.10 The HKJA urges the UN Human Rights Committee to monitor closely the government review of public service broadcasting, to ensure that it does nothing that harms freedom of expression. The review should primarily strengthen the public broadcaster’s editorial independence, by recommending the enactment of legislation guaranteeing the station’s independence. It should also ensure that any structural changes to the broadcaster do not result in the station being weakened or marginalised – through either financial or manpower cuts.
2.11 The HKJA also urges the UN Human Rights Committee to impress upon the HKSAR government the importance of taking his opportunity to open up television channels for the public to air their views – a promise that was made by the government before the 1997 handover, but never implemented. It should also add more radio frequencies in view of the introduction of digital radio services. These moves would further diversify the media scene, thereby consolidating the base for freedom of expression.
INTERCEPTION OF COMMUNICATIONS AND COVERT SURVEILLANCE (pp 190-192)
3.1 The HKJA shares the concern of the UN Human Rights Committee that the government has failed to bring into effect the Interception of Communications Ordinance or to scrap section 33 of the Telecommunication Ordinance and section 13 of the Post Office Ordinance, as they relate to the interception of communications and mail. These provisions are contrary to Article 17 of the ICCPR, thus violating the right to privacy.
3.2 Recent developments have now forced the government into action over both interception of communications and covert surveillance. In April 2005, a district court judge ruled that there was no legal basis for carrying out covert surveillance. This prompted the government to publish an executive order governing covert surveillance in August 2005.
3.3 There was considerable opposition to the move as the government bypassed both the Executive and the Legislative councils in bringing forward the order. Legal experts also argued that the executive order did not comply with Article 30 of the Basic Law, the mini constitution of HKSAR, which states that the authorities may inspect communications only in compliance with legal procedures.
3.4 The government was forced to speed up this process after a High Court judge ruled in February 2006 that the provision in the Telecommunications Ordinance on interception of communications as well as the executive order were unconstitutional, because they were not in line with the Basic Law and ICCPR provisions governing privacy. However, the court postponed the effect of the ruling for six months, to allow the government and the legislature time to fill the legal vacuum.
3.5 Some pro-democracy legislators questioned whether the ruling on the postponement of the declaration was in line with the spirit of the law. They also expressed concern that violations of privacy rights would be continued. However, the government refused to withdraw the executive order and instead promised to bring forward legislation covering both interception of communications and covert surveillance – an ironic position given that it had previously stated that it needed more time to study the issue (see paragraph 191). This review had been underway since the Chief Executive refused to sign into effect the Interception of Communications Ordinance in July 1997.
3.6 The HKJA believes that the law brought forward by the government must comply fully with provisions in the ICCPR. It must be narrow in scope and unambiguous in meaning. It should cover all forms of covert surveillance by the police and other law enforcement agencies operating in Hong Kong, including the Chinese Public and State Security bureaus.
3.7 The HKJA notes that the government is proposing that a High Court judge should approve the interception of communications and more intrusive means of covert surveillance. However, less intrusive surveillance would be subject to approval from a senior law enforcement officer – a proposal that could lead to abuse. There would also be independent oversight and complaint handling mechanisms.
3.8 The HKJA is particularly concerned about covert surveillance that might uncover confidential journalistic material or sources of information. In this respect, we note with concern that paragraphs 48, 51 and 52 of internal police guidelines on covert surveillance make reference to confidential journalistic material. They state that extra care should be taken when such material is involved. The HKJA questions whether the law enforcement authorities are therefore able to circumvent safeguards contained in the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance governing search and seizure of journalistic material.
3.9 We call on the UN Human Rights Committee to call on the HKSAR government to impose higher thresholds before intercepts involving journalistic material can be permitted – for example if there is a grave threat to Hong Kong’s security, or where there is an imminent threat to lives. In addition, the proposed law should not in any way – directly or indirectly – be used to obtain information that may enable the authorities to determine a journalist’s sources of information.
THE CHALLENGE OF NATIONAL SECURITY LAWS (pp324-339)
4.1 One of the biggest challenges to freedom of expression during the period under review was the move to enact national security legislation. In September 2002, the government published a consultation document outlining how it proposed to prohibit treason, sedition, secession and the theft of state secrets. In February 2003, it introduced the National Security (Legislative Provisions) Bill to the Legislative Council. However, despite limited concessions, half a million people took to the streets on July 1st of the same year, to express their anger about the legislative proposals. The government withdrew the bill from the legislative programme in September 2003, promising to revisit the issue at a later date. There have been no further developments on this front.
4.2 In concluding observations released in November 1999, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern at the way in which the offences of treason and sedition under the Crimes Ordinance were defined in overly broad terms, thus endangering freedom of expression guaranteed under article 19 of the ICCPR. The committee also reminded the SAR government that all laws enacted under article 23 of the Basic Law had to conform to the Covenant.
4.3 The government maintains that its legislative proposals complied with the ICCPR. In paragraph 327 of its report, it claims that “we rigorously adhered to our undertaking to ensure that the proposals were fully consistent with the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Covenant, the Basic Law (particularly those in Article 39), and the BORO (Bill of Rights Ordinance).”
4.4 The HKJA disagrees. It took the view that the National Security (Legislative Provisions) Bill – even with several changes – did not fully comply with the wording and spirit of the ICCPR, in that it placed an excessive burden on journalists and those practising freedom of expression.
4.5 The HKJA had concerns about the absence of adequate safeguards in provisions relating to sedition and the theft of state secrets, in particular as they affected the handling of seditious publications and new offences relating to the unauthorised disclosure of information. These include the creation of a new category of information related to Hong Kong affairs within the responsibility of the central Chinese authorities and a new offence of obtaining information from unauthorised disclosures or illegal access.
4.6 The HKJA was also deeply concerned about the effect of a provision to ban Hong Kong organisations which are subordinate to mainland Chinese groups prohibited on national security grounds, the lifting of time limits on prosecutions and the raising of maximum sentences for many national security offences.
4.7 While the HKJA welcomes the government’s decision to withdraw the bill, it is concerned about the likelihood that a revised bill will at some stage be brought forward. Indeed, we note with considerable concern comments attributed to the Chief Executive, Donald Tsang, in June 2005 – during his election campaign – that the bill was too lenient, outdated and may have loopholes. He was further quoted by participants in a closed door meeting as saying that it may not be possible to enforce the bill effectively.
4.8 Following criticism of these comments, Mr. Tsang stated publicly: “I also believe that there were imperfections, particularly with reference to enforcement, which could be improved.”
4.9 The HKJA would prefer that the relevant legislation not be enacted, as there appears to be no pressing social or national security need for such laws. However, the government has made it clear that it will press ahead with its plans – at some unspecified time in the future. It states in paragraph 339: “(We) must emphasise again that the HKSAR has a clear constitutional duty to implement Article 23 of the Basic Law.”
4.10 If this is the case, the UN Human Rights Committee should urge the HKSAR government to take the following action to minimise the adverse impact of the law, and to bring it fully into line with the spirit of the ICCPR:
1) Scrap the offence of handling seditious publications, which poses a serious threat to practitioners of free speech.
2) Incorporate the Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in the law. Principle 6, which includes the concept of “clear and present danger” should in particular be incorporated in the section on sedition.
3) Incorporate adequate public interest and prior publication defences in the Official Secrets Ordinance, which will include new offences relating to the theft of state secrets.
4.11 Further, the UN Human Rights Committee should urge the HKSAR government to ensure that the public and the legislature are given adequate time to consider the complex issues involved in any future bill. It would be a travesty of the political process if the government once again acted in undue haste – one of the reasons why it was forced to withdraw the bill in September 2003.
THREATS FROM ANTI-TERROR LEGISLATION (pp207-209)
5.1 The United Nations (Anti-Terrorism Measures) Ordinance was rushed through the legislature in July 2002. The HKJA was concerned in particular that it might lead to the prosecution of journalists who refuse to give up information relating to possible terrorists or their activities, or who refuse to reveal confidential sources of information.
5.2 The HKSAR government states in paragraph 209 that search and seizure operations are subject to safeguards in Part XII of the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance. However, the HKJA remains unconvinced that provisions in the ordinance fully comply with the ICCPR.
5.3 This concern was heightened in July 2004, when officers from the Independent Commission Against Corruption executed 14 search warrants against seven newspapers and the offices and homes of several journalists in connection with an earlier fraud case. No journalists were detained – although several others, including two lawyers, face charges relating to the case.
5.4 The highly intrusive raids highlighted serious shortcomings in the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance. There is a clear need for the HKSAR government to ensure that the provisions fully comply with the ICCPR, by giving greater protection to journalists and journalistic material. In particular, there should be greater protection for journalistic material held in confidence, and judges should allow search and seizure operations only in the most exceptional of circumstances.
PRESSING NEED FOR ACCESS TO INFORMATION LEGISLATION (p199-200)
6.1 The government continues to herald the success of its administrative code on access to information. But it fails to give individuals a statutory right to obtain government information. The HKJA has recently renewed its call for the enactment of freedom of information legislation as a counterweight to any national security legislation, and in particular the Official Secrets Ordinance. The government needs to reconsider this issue, in particular as more countries, including Britain, are adopting statutory systems.
6.2 In particular, the HKJA calls on the UN Human Rights Committee to urge the HKSAR government to enact a law based on the principles of maximum exposure, limited and narrowly drawn exemptions, and an effective appeal mechanism.
WORSENING RELATIONS BETWEEN HKSARG & JOURNALISTS
7.1 Since the 1997 handover, the HKJA has noted that the HKSAR government has over time adopted a less tolerant attitude towards the media and journalists. One of its first acts after the handover was the erection of a fence around the government headquarters complex – prompting analysts to suggest that the administration was closing its doors to the public and the media.
7.2 In January 2004, the government took another step that was detrimental to the interests of the media – the introduction of a press pass system for journalists wishing to enter the government headquarters complex. The HKJA and other media organisations deplored the move – and noted that it followed a growing trend towards forcing journalists to pre-register for an increasing number of news events, in particular those involving mainland officials.
7.3 The HKJA also noted the staging of selective media briefings, whereby only friends of the government would be invited to events hosted by senior officials at which major policy initiatives would be announced. At times, such briefings would be “off-the-record”, meaning that the officials could be referred to only as “government sources”.
7.4 The UN Human Rights Committee should consider whether such practices are compatible with freedom of expression, and whether the government should adopt a more transparent and fair policy of dissemination of information to the public.
INDECISIVE ACTION OVER DETAINED HONG KONG JOURNALIST
8.1 In April 2005, Hong Kong journalist and chief China correspondent for Singapore’s Straits Times, Ching Cheong, was detained in Guangzhou and moved to Beijing, where he was put under house arrest. In August 2005, he was formally charged with spying for Taiwan. There is no word yet on when he will be brought to trial. Indeed, there are reports that prosecutors have returned the case to China’s State Security Bureau.
8.2 Mr Ching’s case is of particular interest, given that he is considered to be sympathetic to Beijing. Indeed, he worked for 15 years with the pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po newspaper in Hong Kong, before leaving shortly after the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in China in June 1989.
8.3 The HKJA and other organisations called for Mr Ching’s immediate release and for the case to be handled in a fair, open and legal manner. They also pressed the HKSAR government to intervene on Mr Ching’s behalf. The Chief Executive, Donald Tsang, has raised the issue with mainland officials, but without any real success.
8.4 This case is of particular concern to journalists in Hong Kong, because of the chilling effect it has on media coverage of China affairs. Many Hong Kong journalists work on the mainland, and they know that they can face harsh retribution if they stray over ill-defined lines imposed by the Chinese government, including those relating to state secrets. This has an inevitable effect on what can and cannot be reported in Hong Kong – a form of self-censorship that can have a profound effect on freedom of expression in Hong Kong.
8.5 Given widespread concern in Hong Kong over Mr. Ching’s detention, the HKJA urges the UN Human Rights Committee to examine the issue, and add its voice to those calling for Mr. Ching’s early release.
8.6 The HKJA also notes with serious concern that intimidation continues of Hong Kong journalists working in mainland China. For example, journalists from the Apple Daily newspaper, which is critical of both the Hong Kong and Chinese governments, are routinely barred from reporting on the mainland. In September 2005, the HKJA wrote to the President of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC), Hu Jintao, complaining about the decision to reject applications from Apple Daily and Radio Free Asia to cover an important visit by Hong Kong legislators to Guangdong province.
8.7 There were also some reports of violence against journalists who covering social unrest in the Mainland. In October 2005, the HKJA wrote to the governor of Guangdong province, Huang Huahua, about an incident in which two journalists – working for the South China Morning Post and Radio France Internationale – were punched and slapped by guards and unidentified individuals, while they were trying to cover unrest in Taishi township. There was no reply to the HKJA’s call for the incident to be investigated.
INTIMIDATION OF TALK-SHOW HOSTS
9.1 Over a period of just three weeks in May 2004, three popular (and often controversial) talk-show hosts working for the private broadcaster Commercial Radio, announced they were taking a break from their programmes. Their decisions came amid charges that the political atmosphere had become excessively suffocating, and that in one case, mainland officials were exerting unwarranted pressure.
9.2 The first to quit was Hong Kong’s most popular talk-show host, Albert Cheng, who complained about growing political pressure. He said: “There’s so much pressure – the slanted media, the savage Hong Kong government and the tyrannical central government.” He also said that many `friends’ had told him not to criticise the government “as fiercely as before”.
9.3 The other talk-show hosts to leave were Wong Yuk-man – who is fiercely anti-communist, and Allen Lee, who replaced Mr. Cheng for a short period. Mr. Lee – who is a Hong Kong deputy to China’s National People’s Congress and a former Liberal Party chairman – said he was contacted by a former Mainland official who wanted to discuss his work as a talk-show host and mentioned familiarity with his family members. Mr. Lee regarded worried that his family may be harmed which prompt him to quit.
9.4 Mr. Cheng and Mr. Wong also decided to quit, and the controversial talk-shows were replaced with programmes that media analysts considered to be relatively mild.
9.5 The HKJA is concerned that pressure is being exerted on the Hong Kong media to tone down its criticism of the Hong Kong and Chinese governments. The departure of the three talk-show hosts is symptomatic of this trend. It is also evident in attempts to muzzle or marginalise the public broadcaster, Radio Television Hong Kong.
9.6 The HKJA urges the UN Human Rights Committee to monitor such developments, and to urge the HKSAR government to fully respect freedom of expression and allow differences of opinion – even if they are not widely held or are anathema to the Chinese government.
PRESS FREEDOM AND SELF-CENSORSHIP (p198)
10.1 In our annual reports on freedom of expression, the HKJA has pointed to the growing problem of self-censorship. While it is difficult to ascertain the true seriousness of this problem, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that journalists are exercising greater caution over reporting matters which are considered sensitive to Beijing. These include in particular matters relating to Taiwan, dissident and separatist activities on the Mainland, the Falun Gong, and the inner workings of the Chinese government. Warnings by Mainland officials and sympathisers have exacerbated this trend.
10.2 Concrete evidence has been provided by surveys about how journalists perceive the problem. A survey conducted in 2002 by the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University found that 14.1 percent of 617 journalist respondents considered self-censorship to be very serious, and 61.3 percent reported that there was self-censorship, but it was not very serious.
10.3 Further, a specific case of self-consorship came to light in August 2002, when the news editor of Metro Broadcast, Paul Cheung, said he was sacked for refusing to tone down reports on the then Chief Executive, Tung Chee-hwa, and his station’s owner, property tycoon Li Ka-shing.
10.4 In a bid to discourage self-censorship, the HKJA calls on the UN Human Rights Committee to urge the Chinese government not to take any action or encourage any statements that threaten or impinge upon freedom of expression in Hong Kong, and to urge the HKSAR government to encourage a more open and tolerant atmosphere, to encourage the publication and broadcast of different voices and viewpoints.
AN ILL THOUGHT-OUT PROPOSAL FOR A STATUTORY PRESS COUNCIL
11.1 The HKSAR government is currently considering a report brought out by the Law Reform Commission in December 2004, which calls for the creation through legislation of a statutory press council to handle media intrusion into privacy rights of individuals. It also proposed the creation of two new civil torts relating to privacy. These proposals, if implemented, will have a serious impact on media freedoms.
11.2 The HKJA questions why the Law Reform Commission wants to create a statutory press council – when many democratic countries have rejected such a route – and whether the Commission has made a proper case that there is a pressing social need for taking the statutory route in dealing with the problem of media intrusion.
11.3 The HKJA believes that although the press is not blameless on privacy issues, it is fundamentally wrong to take a legislative approach, as this runs counter to the principle of voluntary media self-regulation.
11.4 The HKJA urges the UN Human Rights Committee to call on the HKSAR government to reject these proposals. While there may be concerns relating to how the media handle privacy issues, we feel that resort to the law to solve them would bring about greater harm to freedom of expression than it would benefit individuals feeling aggrieved about media intrusion.
OTHER ISSUES RAISED IN THE PERIOD UNDER REVIEW
12.1 ARTICLE 25: The HKJA remains concerned about the failure to set a timetable for the introduction of universal suffrage for the election of both the Chief Executive and the legislature. Full democracy is essential, along with judicial independence, to guarantee full protection for freedom of expression and other rights. The HKJA is deeply disappointed that a ruling by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in April 2004 blocked any real progress towards full democracy. It not only ruled out universal suffrage in 2007 and 2008; it also blocked any increase in the proportion of directly elected legislators, which reached 50 percent for the 2004 Legislative Council polls.
12.2 The HKJA urges the UN Human Rights Committee to urge the HKSAR government to move rapidly to introduce full democracy as soon as possible. This is particularly important as the base for democracy remains weak in Hong Kong. This in turn affects the legitimacy and credibility of the government.
12.3 The HKJA also notes that the government’s so-called accountability system has not led to any real accountability on the part of principal officials. This is exacerbated in particular by the failure of the government to introduce a more democratic political system.
12.4 ARTICLE 21: The HKJA shares the concern of other non-governmental organisations about the government’s prosecution policy towards peaceful protesters. The first conviction for holding an unauthorised rally was made under the Public Order Ordinance in November 2002. Three pro-democracy activists were convicted. Unease stems from the fact that prosecutions did not take place in many other cases of “unauthorised assembly”.
12.5 This raises the question of whether the Public Order Ordinance is open to abuse and whether it complies with the ICCPR – a concern shared by the Human Rights Committee, which should once again urge the HKSAR government to review the Ordinance, to ensure that it complies fully with article 21 of the ICCPR and with the associated right to freedom of expression.
12.6 FLAG DESECRATION: There have been several convictions since the enactment of the National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance and the Regional Flag and Regional Emblem Ordinance in 1997. In the latest case, an activist was tried for burning a flag in July 2002. The HKJA remains concerned that these laws represent an unjustifiable limitation on freedom of expression, however distasteful flag desecration might be. The UN Human Rights Committee should urge the HKSAR government to review these laws to bring them fully into line with the ICCPR.
12.7 ARTICLE 2: The HKJA shares the continuing concern of the UN Human Rights Committee about the failure of the HKSAR government to set up an independent human rights commission, to investigate and monitor human rights violations and the implementation of rights set down in the ICCPR. The committee should once again urge the HKSAR government to move as quickly as possible towards creating such a body, which would provide considerable strength to rights protection in the Special Administrative Region.
SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS
13.1 The HKSAR government has tried to say that all is well with freedom of expression in Hong Kong; that it is complying with provisions in the ICCPR. The HKJA disagrees. Given the warning clouds that we have highlighted in our report, we would urge the UN Human Rights Committee to impress upon the HKSAR government the urgent need to take the following action:
1) To submit an interim report on its implementation of the ICCPR one year after the conclusion of the March 2006 hearings in New York, to take into consideration ongoing issues including the review of public broadcasting and moves to enact a law on interception of communications and covert surveillance.
2) To refrain from taking any action that may threaten freedom of expression in Hong Kong. This is best achieved by promoting a society that is tolerant of differences of opinion – even if such opinions are not widely held or are anathema to the government in Beijing. It is also achieved by implementing a non-discriminatory policy towards media organisations, including those which are critical of government policies.
3) In reviewing public service broadcasting in Hong Kong, to aim at strengthening the editorial independence of Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK). It should do everything possible to encourage media diversity. It should not seek to limit RTHK’s role, whether directly or indirectly, but should instead encourage it and other existing or potential broadcasters to strengthen their ability to act as watchdogs of the government.
4) To ensure that its proposed law on interception of communications and covert surveillance should fully comply with the ICCPR. The law should be narrowly drawn and provide sufficient monitoring and complaint mechanisms for members of the public. It should in particular impose higher thresholds on intercepts involving journalistic material
5) If the HKSAR government proceeds with national security legislation, to ensure that the law incorporates proper safeguards, including the Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information and adequate public interest and prior publication defences.
6) To enact freedom of information legislation giving the public and journalists a statutory right to seek information from the administration and public bodies. It should be based on the principles of maximum exposure, limited and narrowly drawn exemptions, and an effective appeal mechanism.
7) To do everything possible to seek the early release of Hong Kong journalist Ching Cheong, who has been detained in mainland China since April 2005.
8) To refrain from interfering in the running of the media, by rejecting proposals for a statutory press council and new privacy-related civil torts.
HKJA Executive Committee
February 24th, 2006