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China Muzzles Protests Hong Kong’s Future Legislature Lets Police Ban Demonstrations

Hong Kong’s future legislature voted Saturday to limit demonstrations and political fund raising after the British colony comes under Chinese control.

The “provisional legislature,” as the handpicked panel is called, voted to give the Hong Kong police broad new powers to ban even peaceful demonstrations in protecting China’s “national security.”

The panel also voted to impose penalties of $800 and three years in prison for anyone who burns or defaces a Chinese flag after July 1.

Another change will require that groups wishing to hold marches or rallies get approval from the police.

The 60-member appointed legislature also voted to outlaw foreign donations to political parties - a move aimed directly at weakening the popular Democratic Party, which receives aid from overseas human-rights organizations and others.

It was the most significant action so far by the provisional legislature, which China set up in December after rejecting reforms that produced the territory’s first entirely elected legislature in 1995.

The laws take effect July 1, when China assumes control of Hong Kong.

Communist China has promised Hong Kong will keep its freedoms, capitalist economy and legal system, but is anxious to insulate itself from the territory’s freewheeling ways.

Before Saturday’s vote, panel members insisted that controls are necessary to maintain public order.

“There is a feeling that our council is putting a stricter rein on Hong Kong people. Actually, it’s just the opposite,” said Wong Siu-yee of the Liberal Democratic Federation.

He said people often use freedom as an excuse to commit crimes, concluding: “We need to have some kind of restrictions on personal freedoms, and the bills achieve that.”

The new public order ordinance allows police to ban demonstrations to protect public order or national security, defined as “the safeguarding of the territorial integrity and the independence of the People’s Republic of China.”

Hong Kong’s most popular party, the Democrats, who are sharply critical of China and are excluded from the provisional legislature, has warned that “national security” could become an excuse for quashing pro-democracy protests.

The main thrust of the changes appears directed toward reassuring China that Hong Kong will not be a base for undermining Communist rule or advocating causes China abhors, such as independence for Tibet and Taiwan.

Hong Kong’s top civil servant, Anson Chan, says “Minding our own business is the best guarantee of our autonomy.”