Hong Kong security chief says new laws will reflect 'importance of spies'

Hong Kong's Secretary for Security Chris Tang said the existing ordinance was too limited when it came to provisions. - AFP

HONG KONG (Reuters): Hong Kong's security chief said on Wednesday (Jan 26) that his government would strengthen laws against espionage as part of extra national security legislation now being drafted.

Secretary for Security Chris Tang told the city's legislature that Hong Kong's existing laws against spying, contained in the British-era Official Secrets Ordinance, could not reflect the "importance" of the crime.

"We will reflect the importance of spies in the legislation," said Tang, the city's former top policeman.

The government is drafting legislation to cover a range of security crimes to meet its obligations under Article 23 of the Basic Law - its mini-constitution following its 1997 handover from British colonial rule.

Article 23 says Hong Kong must enact laws "on its own" against crimes including treason, secession, theft of state secrets and activities by foreign political groups.

The city government's last attempt to pass those laws, in 2003, triggered street protests by Hong Kong people who saw the legislation as a threat to the city's special freedoms.

Some diplomats, legal scholars and activists say the Article 23 legislation will significantly extend the scope and reach of a national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong in 2020.

Tang said the existing ordinance was too limited when it came to provisions including giving information useful to an enemy.

"We feel that the definitions are not enough for us to combat all manner of espionage activities," he said.

As well as espionage, Tang said the legislation would outline specific crimes of treason, sedition, theft of state secrets as well as forbidding activities by foreign political groups inside Hong Kong and ties between such groups and local organisations.

The drafting is expected to be completed in the next few months and to be introduced after the city's new leader takes office in July, government officials have said.

Critics say the national security law has put freedoms at risk with tough bail provisions and expanded police powers under a legal regime that punishes subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.

Hong Kong and Chinese officials say the law was vital to ensure stability after the Asian financial hub was rocked by sometimes-violent pro-democracy protests for much of 2019, and say prosecutions are not political.

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