Executive councillor Ronny Tong has defended the police's use of a colonial-era law to make arrests over allegedly seditious children books, saying the provisions of the Crimes Ordinance were "the national security law" before the handover.
He was commenting on a radio show on Friday, a day after national security officers arrested five members of a speech therapists' union over three children's books featuring sheep that are suspected of inciting hatred towards the government.
They were arrested under section 10 of the colonial-era Crimes Ordinance – which still refers to the queen – and not the national security law that was introduced by Beijing a little over a year ago.
The senior counsel said he had noted that a legal academic, whom he did not name, had suggested most of the offences in the Crimes Ordinance probably couldn't pass the proportionality test under human rights law.
But Tong said he disagreed.
He said such views either showed the person's lack of understanding on human rights principles, or that he or she was biased because of his or her own political stance.
Tong stressed that while the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights protects freedom of expression, it is subject to restrictions when it comes to protecting national security, public order, morals and the rights of others.
He said inciting hatred could affect morals and no society would tolerate people "poisoning children".
Meanwhile, former Law Society president Stephen Hung told an RTHK programme that if someone's criticism was genuine and was aimed at pointing out mistakes in governance for officials to correct, then it could be used as a defence in court.
However, he said writing a disclaimer in the books may not necessarily absolve someone of legal liability.
Asked whether possessing such books is against the law, Hung said the prosecution needs to prove that a defendant is aware that the books are seditious and that he or she is keeping them without reasonable explanation.
Ronny Tong defends arrests under old sedition law
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