China Softens Free Speech Curbs for Hong Kong

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HONG KONG: After a vociferous debate over the future of Hong Kong's civil liberties, the colony's future Chinese government Thursday toned down the most controversial part of its proposal to tighten controls over political parties and protests. But wary Hong Kong residents remain concerned that the move may be more about spin control than true moderation. At issue were two provisions that would require citizens organizing a rally or protest to obtain police permits seven days in advance and give the government the authority to ban political parties if they are a threat to national security. Under the revisions, police can approve a demonstration on short notice "in exceptional circumstances." However, nothing in the bill outlined what those circumstances would be. Hong Kong residents fear that China plans a gradual reining in of free speech, for example using the laws to crack down on popular talk-radio shows, cartoons that lampoon China's top officials and other manifestations of diverse expression.