Fear for HK freedom of speech

(First Edition)

HONG KONG (Reuter) - Hong Kong urgently needs full democracy to ensure freedom of speech after the colony returns to China in 1997, two press groups said in a report released yesterday.

The Hong Kong Journalists' Association and the London-based press freedom group Article 19 called on Britain to negotiate with Peking to restore guarantees that Hong Kong will enjoy autonomy when it becomes a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China.

'Without a genuine universal franchise, freedom of expression cannot be a wholly guaranteed right. As a matter of some urgency, full democracy should be introduced to comply with the intended spirit of the Joint Declaration,' it said.

Under Hong Kong's limited democracy, only 20 of the Legislative Council's 60 members will be popularly elected at the handover. The Governor, Chris Patten, has proposed reforms which would in effect allow people to elect most of the other members. The plan has provoked furious Chinese opposition.