Anti subversion bill won’t threaten freedom of speech: lawmakers

Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Issue 584, Page 3
Word count: 757
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

The mainstream view of the Second Standing Committee was that the articles incriminating sedition and theft of state secrets in the national security bill would not jeopardise human rights.

This was stated by the president of the standing committee, Fong Chi Keong, after the second deliberation meeting at the Legislative Assembly yesterday.

According to Fong, committee members had a different interpretation of “publicly or directly” in Article 4 that read “publicly or directly incite others to commit treason, secession and subversion against the Central People’s Government will be sentenced for one to eight years in jail”.

The government representatives explained that the two phases, which were the main factors to judge whether or not a person had constituted the crime of sedition, were defined as “in front of a group of people, unrestrained, and encouraging others to commit crimes”.

Meanwhile, Fong said some committee members insisted that the article would jeopardise freedom of speech, as protestors usually chanted out slogans calling for the public to oppose or defeat certain government policies or officials.

Hence they proposed the inclusion of the Johannesburg Principles into the bill in order to maintain a balance between human rights and national security.

However, Fong said the majority of the committee members believed that Article 4 would not hinder freedom of speech or human rights conventions, but was “in line with the protection entitled by the Macau Basic Law”.

In the Chapter III Fundamental Rights and Duties of the Residents of the Macau Basic Law, Article 27 states that “Macau residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions, and to strike”.

At the same time, the committee president said the Johannesburg Principles was neither an international convention nor an international practice, but was an “initiative that does not contain a mandatory restriction and can only serve as a reference”.

Fong added that most of the committee members agreed with the sedition article, and were not very much concerned about the risks that might be brought to Macau citizens’ human rights.

On the other hand, the standing committee also discussed Article 5 that incriminated theft of state secrets.

Fong said some members questioned whether there was a need to also penalise those who deliberately revealed or sold state secrets to third parties.

The president also said that the committee was concerned about whether stealing or spying onto all state-classified confidential documents would constitute such a crime, even though the information itself was not in connection to national security.

Fong said there were “a lot of technical issues” needing to be discussed with the government, but added that he believed the bill did not have too much room for amendments as the draft “was already revised cautiously according to public opinions collected”.

In addition, the president said the committee suggested changing the phrase “resist” to “attack” in Article 1 regarding treason, or otherwise the definition would be “too narrow and limit the effectiveness of the law”.

Article 1 states that “Chinese citizens who join foreign countries’ armed forces to resist the nation will be imprisoned for 15 to 25 years”.

Fong also assured that staging demonstrations or assemblies, which usually would unavoidably affect public transportation, would not offend the crime of secession as “the Macau Basic Law confers citizens’ rights to organise public assemblies and demonstrations”.

On the other hand, the committee president said a small number of lawmakers hoped to have the minimum jail sentence for treason, secession and subversion reduced from 15 to 10 years which would give a “more consistent penalty range with that in mainland China”.

According to Fong, serious offenders against national security in China could be sentenced for between 10 years and a life sentence or sometimes even the death penalty.

The bill currently suggests a jail sentence of 15 to 25 years for treason, secession and subversion.

Fong said all members’ opinions must be submitted to the government for review, but whether or not the bill would be changed accordingly would still depend on the government’s decision.

The standing committee will have another meeting at 4pm today at the Legislative Assembly. After that the committee will meet with the government on January 19 to exchange opinions and suggestions regarding the national security bill.

Fong said he was confident that the deliberation could be completed within three weeks and the bill could be passed on to the Assembly for a final voting in February.


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