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Speaking Out: 'Contrary to what some have alleged, the police do not license [public rallies]. Provided notification of the event is given, its organizers do not need a notice of no objection to proceed.' — from letter below

I wish to clarify a few points concerning the Public Order Ordinance and student protests in Hong Kong ["This Is an Evil Law," THE NATIONS, Oct. 13]. Under the ordinance, organizers of most public processions of over 30 persons are required to notify the Commissioner of Police at least seven days before the event. The commissioner can, and frequently does, accept less than seven days' notice. Indeed, if he is reasonably satisfied that earlier notice could not have been given, he is obliged to accept shorter notice.

After the commissioner receives a notice of intention to hold a public procession, unless he objects to the event he has to issue a notice of no objection as soon as is reasonably practicable and within the specified time limit. If he does not issue either a notice of no objection or objection within the time limit, he is taken to have issued a notice of no objection, and the procession can take place.

Contrary to what some have alleged, this system does not involve the licensing of public processions by the police. Provided notification of the event is given, its organizers do not need a notice of no objection before they can lawfully hold the procession. The right of peaceful assembly is not compromised.

The assertion that the present law is a resurrection of the pre-1995 law is incorrect. Prior to the 1995 amendments to the ordinance, organizers of a public procession consisting of more than 20 persons were required to apply to the police for a license. The commissioner could issue a license if he was satisfied that the event was not likely to prejudice the maintenance of public order or be used for any unlawful purposes.

The 1995 amendments introduced a notification system to replace the licensing system and stipulated clearly the grounds on which the police might raise objections to a public procession. The 1997 amendments introduced only two further material changes. They were the addition of two grounds on which the commissioner may object to a public procession (both are permissible grounds for restricting the right of peaceful assembly under the international rights covenant) and the concept of notice of no objection. Otherwise the law now is essentially the same as that after the 1995 amendments.

There is absolutely no question of the police targeting students or selective enforcement of the law. Of the 16 persons arrested for the June 26 rally, nine were not students. The police have done no more than follow the due process of the law in investigating possible criminal offenses which might have been committed in the demonstrations. The Department of Justice acts independently in relation to all prosecution matters, and decisions are made according to established prosecution policy.

Hong Kong is a free and open society where freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly are guaranteed by law and fully respected by the government. Since reunification, over 6,600 public processions/assemblies have been held in an orderly and peaceful manner. Facts speak for themselves that our residents' freedom of expression and right of assembly have not been diminished in any way.
Raymond H.C. Wong
Deputy Secretary for Security
Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government

Reply to the Singson Accusations
We believe Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis Singson is bluffing because, two weeks into his exposE on the supposed links of President Joseph Ejercito Estrada to jueteng (illegal numbers game), he has yet to show any evidence to support his charge that would stand up in court. President Estrada has repeatedly said that he is willing to answer the charges and defend himself before the appropriate body, but he will do so only after Singson has submitted his evidence.

"All Played Out?" mentioned the Senate investigation and the governor's submission of a ledger supposedly recording the jueteng collections and listing the payola beneficiaries. This ledger has been proven to be a hoax because Singson admitted to members of the Senate committee that at least four names on the list did not receive a centavo in jueteng money from him.

As overall collector of the jueteng payoffs, Singson also said he has delivered to Estrada about 32 to 35 million pesos (an estimated $700,000) monthly since late 1998. Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile observed, though, that this was impossible because the ledger submitted to the Senate by Singson showed that the collections this year were only between a high of 14.7 million pesos and a low of 4.05 million.

Singson said he had also surrendered to the president 130 million pesos of the 200 million in excise taxes on tobacco earmarked for his tobacco-producing province. During the hearings, though, Sen. Francisco Tatad submitted a report of the Commission on Audit showing that the provincial government had already liquidated 142 million pesos of the amount.

These are a few of the inconsistencies that the senators have unmasked. The growing public perception is that the jueteng exposE is a hoax founded on the sweeping and baseless allegations of a self-confessed gambling lord.
Noel C. Cabrera
Press Undersecretary

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