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Treason offence explained


Treason, the betrayal of one's country in collusion with a foreign enemy, is a very serious offence. Almost every country has put in place treason laws to protect national security, the Acting Permanent Secretary for Security, Mr Timothy Tong, said today (November 12).

"In Hong Kong, treason has been on the statute books for decades. It comes under the Crimes Ordinance.

"Therefore, when we enact legislation to prohibit treason in accordance with Article 23 of the Basic Law, we need to update and improve the treason provisions in the Crimes Ordinance. Our proposal now is to have the offence narrowly defined and to restrict the substantive offence to levying war against the Government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) by joining forces with a foreigner; instigating a foreigner to invade the PRC; or assisting by any means a public enemy at war with the PRC.

"Treason involves the collusion with foreigners to invade the country or to overturn or intimidate the PRC Government through levying war or the use of violence," Mr Tong said.

Referring to concerns on the offence of misprision of treason, Mr Tong emphasised that the betrayal of one's country was such a serious crime that it was considered necessary to retain the offence in the legislative proposals.

"Moreover, the offence of misprision of treason is a common law offence. It is committed only when a person knows or has reasonable grounds to believe that another person has committed treason but fails to disclose this to the proper authority within a reasonable time," he said.

Mr Tong said that the offence of misprision of treason was present in countries like the US, UK, Australia and Canada, adding that the Australian Government had only very recently conducted a review of their law on treason and decided to retain this specific offence.

Mr Tong went on to explain why treason offences were applicable to all persons who were staying voluntarily in the HKSAR. "In many jurisdictions, it is considered that only someone who owes allegiance to the state or enjoys its protection may commit treason against it. Case laws indicate that allegiance does not necessarily have to be based on nationality. Indeed some law reform proposals favour applying the offence of treason to all those who enjoy protection by the state," Mr Tong explained.

"We agree with this approach, as it is only reasonable that anyone who enjoys protection of the HKSAR and the state, regardless of his nationality, should at least not engage in any action that endangers the vital interests of the country," he said.

End/Tuesday, November 12, 2002


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