A planned anti-subversion law could crush dissent in Hong Kong and may be intended to preserve the power of China's Communist Party, Hong Kong's Roman Catholic Church said in its latest attack on the legislation.
The church's weekly newsletter, Kung Kao Po, expressed fears Hong Kong's government will "suppress opposition voices and crack down on enemies in the name of national security."
Since the U.K. handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, Western-style civil liberties, including the freedom of speech, press and religion, have been preserved in the territory. Officials say they are untouchable.
But Hong Kong has also been constitutionally required to outlaw subversion, sedition, treason, secession and other crimes against the state.
The government began work on the law last year and is expected to enact it soon, although critics complain provisions calling for life in prison for many crimes against the state are too broad.
"It's inevitable to wonder, does the legislation protect people's rights, or the government's rights, the party's rights or political stability?" the Catholic paper asked.
The planned legislation has stirred up one of the territory's biggest political fights since the hand-over, coming under fire from rights groups and pro-democracy lawmakers among others.
Earlier this month, the leader of Hong Kong's Catholic community, Bishop Joseph Zen, expressed concerns that the church here would find it more difficult to maintain ties with Catholics in the mainland once the law is enacted. Catholics in China are allowed to attend officially sanctioned churches that don't report to the Vatican, but some still worship in underground congregations loyal to the pope.
The Hong Kong government has disputed such concerns, but officials didn't immediately return phone calls on Monday from The Associated Press.