Hong Kong lawmakers concerned about ‘hidden agendas’ behind Macau’s anti subversion law

Sunday, November 30, 2008
Issue 543, Page 5
Word count: 1343
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

The New Macau Association said yesterday the public consultation sessions held by the government to clarify the draft of the National Security Law were “idle”, as what the officials pledged to the people there did not carry any legal effect.

A public forum was held at the Association’s office where three Hong Kong lawmakers, Ronny Tong Ka Wah, Cyd Ho Sau Lan and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok Hung, as well as local scholar Ip Iam Chong were invited to comment on Macau’s anti-subversion law.

Today is the last day of the 40-day public consultation period for the law which was prescribed by the Macau Basic Law Article 23.

According to the pro-democracy lawmakers, the “obscure” draft of Macau’s National Security Law would “stifle human rights” in a bid to “secure the regime of the Chinese central government”.

Ronny Tong Ka Wah, who is a barrister-turned politician, said the consultation paper failed to give clear definitions as to how it would constitute the crimes.

Mr Tong also said that he was mostly concerned about the articles in relation to subversion against the Central People’s Government, theft of state secrets and establishing ties with foreign political organisations.

The Article 4 states that persons who “make use of violence or other serious illegal means in order to overthrow the Central People’s Government or force it to perform or not to perform a certain action, will be sentenced for 15 to 25 years in prison”.

Mr Tong said subversion was a “serious crime”, but the draft was unable to further elaborate the part of “to perform or not to perform a certain action”.

“Other serious illegal means” were defined in the content. Of which, the Hong Kong lawmaker pointed out that “destroying transportation, telecommunications or other public infrastructure facilities, or harming transportation safety or telecommunications safety, especially including telegraphs, telephones, radios, televisions or other electronic communications systems” could easily lead to prosecutions.

It was because, he said, such crimes could be committed by either staging a street protest which would affect traffic or transportation, or sending mass online messages to the Chinese central government urging for the release of jailed social activist Hu Jia who was accused of subverting the state power in April this year in Beijing.

Also, the anti sedition article outlines a jail sentence of one to eight years for people who “openly or directly incite others” to endanger national security.

Mr Tong argued the term “directly”, as it involved an issue of timeliness.

In terms of Article 6 which prohibits theft of state secrets, the politician questioned the meaning of “spying on state confidence”, adding that making an inquiry about or carrying out an investigation in a state secret could also be deemed as having committed the crime.

In addition, in Article 8 about prohibiting Macau political organisations or bodies from establishing ties with foreign counterparts to perform anti subversion acts, “collecting, preparing or openly disseminating false or evidently distorted information” would be counted.

Mr Tong pointed out that, however, “false or evidently distorted information” was a very “objective judgement” determined by the SAR.

In Article 9 which regulates preparatory acts, he also said that the draft did not define clearly what “preparatory acts” meant.

According to the Common Law in Hong Kong, he said people who “attempted” to commit a crime would be prosecuted, and the definition was that offenders must have already completed all the other procedures before the “very last step” was taken.

As well, Mr Tong criticised that the consultation paper did not suggest any grounds for defence such as citing the reason of “public interest” or “the state secrets had already been exposed before the defendants did”.

On the other hand, Cyd Ho Sau Lan, another Hong Kong democrat and lawmaker, told the attendants in the public forum that the main concept about the National Security Law was to “suppress thinking and freedom of speech” and hence “people’s ideas cannot be concentrated and social power will be minimised”.

Ms Ho commented on the article prohibiting theft of state secrets, and said that the Chinese central government remained the largest authority to control prosecutions.

It was because the draft stated that the court must obtain a certificate from the Chief Executive proving the document, information or item was a state secret, but such certificate would only be issued after another certificate was given by the state.

Meanwhile, she said she was concerned about the risks that could be brought to media workers after the legislation was passed.

“Journalists’ jobs are always about to pry into information, except in cases when someone voluntarily releases information without asking,” Ms Ho said.

“This poses the greatest challenge to reporters as they’ve the power to initiate public discussion through news coverage,” she added.

Ms Ho pointed out that without community organisations civil society would become weak.

Even though the regime could be secured, she said society would not grow as there was no discussion and connection.

However, the lawmaker said the Macau government would not execute the law after it was in force, but only when Hong Kong had also enacted Article 23.

“Macau needs to serve as a model to show Hong Kong people that the legislation won’t damage their human rights and create huge public concerns,” Ms Ho added.

At the same time, Leung Kwok Hung, who is commonly known as “Long Hair”, said the National Security Law was a “terrible law”.

“The law is to reinforce the status of a single-party system in the state government,” Long Hair added.

He called for the media, political bodies including the Pan-democracy camp and the public in Hong Kong to support Macau residents to oppose the anti-subversion law, or otherwise they would be “digging up their own graves” as, he said, very soon after Macau the Chinese central government would insert pressure again on Donald Tsang Yam Kuen’s administration to implement the enactment.

Ip Iam Chong, a Macau-born scholar who works at the Hong Kong Lingnan University as an assistant lecturer in the Department of Cultural Studies, said the National Security Law was just a “new name” created by the state in order to “execute the purposes of counter-revolutionary crimes”.

Mr Ip said it was not necessary to enact the law so as to show patriotism, adding the Macau government run public consultation meetings only had pro-Beijing social organisations and individuals invited.

He added that it was an example of the state to suppress freedom of speech by “hidden ways”.

On the other hand, Paul Chan Wai Chi, the president of the New Macau Association, said they “neither support nor oppose” the enactment, but hoped the SAR government could respond to public opinions and prolong the public consultation period.

Mr Chan said the Association was mostly concerned about the article outlining a three year jail sentence for preparatory acts, adding this was the article the government did not compare with Portugal or other European countries that also adopted the civil law system.

The president said the officials argued that Macau’s Penal Code had long regulated “preparatory acts”, however he said its definition was very well explained in the code whilst in the draft of the anti subversion law it was not.

“What the Chief Executive or the Legal Reform Office had said in the public consultation meetings came with no legal effect, any trials will still be judged by the court,” Mr Chan added.

Also, Mr Chan said the Association hoped the National Security Law could fulfil the standards adopted in The Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in order to ensure Macau people’s human rights.

The consultation paper of the National Security Law was released by the Macau government on October 22 which proposed seven kinds of subversion acts that could put offenders in prison for up to 30 years.

Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau Wah said at that time that he believed the law could be passed in next year, making it one of the tasks he wanted to complete in his term in office.

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