Reuters, Oct. 30, 2002
HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s tough talking security chief vowed on Wednesday not to use a planned anti-subversion law to outlaw the controversial Falun Gong spiritual movement as long as it behaves.
Falun Gong is banned in China, which took back control of Hong Kong from Britain in 1997. Despite a high degree of freedom guaranteed to the territory, human rights groups fear Beijing will press the local government to make the same move.
“We have not done that (banned Falun Gong) because we have not perceived any grounds for doing so,” Security Secretary Regina Ip told journalists at a meeting to discuss the measure.
“Yes,” Ip replied when asked if Falun Gong would be left alone if the group behaved in future as it does now.
Beijing has branded Falun Gong an evil cult and has arrested many members.
Its members have held regular peaceful protests in Hong Kong, though police often confine them to restricted areas. Followers are allowed to do special meditation exercises in public, but foreign members have been barred from the territory.
Beijing wants the anti-subversion law put in place quickly to prevent foreign forces from subverting the mainland.
However, rights groups say it is a powerful weapon that could be used to crack down on anyone critical of China or groups Chinese leaders do not like.
The constitution of Hong Kong requires it to enact the law to prevent acts of subversion, sedition and treason against, or secession from, the mainland.
The proposed law has quickly polarised Hong Kong since being unveiled late last month.
Pro-Beijing groups have backed it but lawyers, academics, rights and democracy groups bitterly protest some of its broader principles as giving the government and police too much power.
Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen set off more controversy at the weekend when he said the measure had the support of most Hong Kong people and criticised opponents as having “devils in their hearts”, a reference to a guilty conscience or something to hide.
His comments provoked protest from newspapers and pro-democracy politicians, who accused Qian of bullying Hong Kong into accepting the legislation.
Ip, who appeared daily at public forums to explain the measure, was heckled by hundreds of students this week when she said a majority of Hong Kong people supported it.