News that the Chinese government has withdrawn the anti-subversion bill (Article 23) 'indefinitely' has been greeted with caution by the bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Zen Ze-kiun. Bishop Zen told the Missionary News Service on Friday: "It comes as no surprise that the legislation has been withdrawn, because, despite the changes made in recent months, it still failed to satisfy the demands of democracy and legality." Under the new ruling Christians and members of other faiths not approved of by the state could have been suject to large prison sentences for sedition, treason or subversion if they practiced their faith. An outspoken defender of human rights and democracy, Bishop Zen who has lead the Hong Kong diocese since 1996, Bishop Zen said the announcement from the Chinese government had been unclear. The chief executive also said no deadline had been set for the presentation of a new version of the bill but, according to the prelate, "this could be an escape route, a way of postponing everything until things have improved". The bishop said: "According to some people, the parties have no intention of approving Article 23 before the next elections, which are scheduled for the end of 2004, because they are afraid of losing votes. Therefore they have chosen the path of postponement." As for the invitation made by Tung Chee-hwa to focus on economic matters, the prelate said: "Of course the anti-subversion debate does not mean that economic issues cannot be addressed. The problem is that the population has expressed its opinion on the bill, in particular through the street demonstration of 1 July, but the executive did not want to listen. Only by showing that it can listen will the Hong Kong government regain the people's confidence."
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