A government bill amendment to block Hongkongers who are convicted of “endangering national security” from being registered as social workers has prompted concern in the sector, legislators said on Tuesday.
But a government official said that it was unnecessary to “exaggerate” the new rule, which is scheduled to kick in on July 22.
The amendment to the Social Workers Registration Ordinance was discussed by members of the Legislative Council on Tuesday.
During the meeting, lawmaker Connie Lam said she was concerned about whether people would “accidentally breach the law.”
“From what I saw, the red line was very blurry.” she added.
According to Lam, frontline staff had told her that the change to the registration rules would cause mental stress among social workers and indirectly weaken the autonomy of the profession.
In response to Lam, Under Secretary for Labour and Welfare Ho Kai-ming said he believed that the “typical cases” handled by social workers would not involve national security offences.
“I hope that everyone can rest assured, as this [amendment] is not something that introduces fear among co-workers,” Ho said, “but [I] hope all will remember… now, every Chinese Hongkonger shares the responsibility to uphold national safety.”
The chamber’s sole self-proclaimed non-pro-establishment legislator Tik Chi-yuen, who represents the social welfare functional constituency, also said he was concerned about the broad definition of the amendment.
“These concerns are not imaginary, and it is not us manufacturing meaningless fear. In fact, our sector has these concerns.” Tik said.
He then asked Ho if he could provide examples of crimes that endanger national security, as well as whether social workers who protest or criticise government policies – in their course of fighting for their clients – will be viewed as committing such offences.
Ho answered that a previously submitted document had listed six related offences, including the four crimes outlawed by the national security law, coupled with “sedition” and “treason” under the city’s Crimes Ordinance.
Ho added that he thinks it is “impossible in general” for demonstrations that stemmed from “grievances against the government’s issues on people’s livelihood” to breach the related laws.
Following up on Ho’s response, Tik questioned why the government did not clearly list the six offences in the upcoming amendment.
Ho said offences that endanger national security were not limited to those mentioned, “because there will always be a chance to seek legal loopholes.”
Instead, Ho said he thought the proposed procedure for the social worker registration body to refer to court judgements was “appropriate.”