Security bill put through with little hassle

Thursday, February 26, 2009
Issue 624, Page 2
Word count: 698
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

Perhaps not much to society’s surprise, the controversial national security bill was finally passed by winning near-unanimous support at the Legislative Assembly yesterday.

The bill, which outlaws seven kinds of acts such as treason, secession, subversion, sedition and theft of state secrets, will come into effect the next day after it is published in the Official Gazette.

Of the 27 lawmakers who attended the plenary meeting which attracted not only local media but also from Hong Kong and the neighbouring countries, a large majority cast favourable votes on all the 15 articles of the bill, with only pro-democracy Au Kam San and Ng Kuok Cheong voting against a few provisions.

Jose Pereira Coutinho also abstained from voting on the particular “preparatory acts” provision (concerning treason, secession and subversion) that could give a maximum three-year imprisonment.

The lawmaker also refrained from voting on the provision that includes “destruction of transport, communication or other public infrastructure…” as one of the “other serious unlawful means” in Article 2.

Ng Kuok Cheong insisted on adding a definition for “preparatory acts” in Articles 1 to 3, which he said could prevent judicial authorities and the government from abusing their power in order to stifle protest and muzzle dissent.

He also demanded to remove the “destruction of transport, communication or other public infrastructure…”from the list of “other serious unlawful means”, as he said people staging a rally or demonstration could be easily exposed to accusations of having jeopardised national security.

However, Chu Lam Lam, the director of the Legal Reform Office, said that the idea of “preparatory acts” was not something new, adding it had long existed in the old and existing Penal Code, as well as in the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Chu said none of these laws had defined what preparatory acts were, adding it was because of their “diversity” that made it unlikely for the government to list them all.

Meanwhile, Coutinho said regulating preparatory acts could give rise to self censorship within the media industry.

He also said that some “ambiguous wording” in the bill would give judges an “immoderate discretionary power” in deciding whether a person was guilty.

Concerns were drawn mainly on Articles 1 to 5 regarding treason, secession, subversion, sedition and theft of state secrets, for which a discussion between lawmakers and the government dragged on for about two hours.

After that the remaining 10 articles were put through with unanimous support, except from lawmaker Chow Kam Fai who was absent from the meeting.

Kwan Tsui Hang was one of the many lawmakers who were in favour of the anti subversion bill.

In response to the comment that the legislative process was “hasty” since the 40-day public consultation period was launched on October 22, 2008, Kwan said it was not the duration that matters, but the public participation level and quality of the bill.

“Instead I think the bill should have come earlier as there was no law defending national security since the establishment of the Macau SAR,” she said.

The Portuguese Penal Code which consisted of provisions to ban anti national security activities ceased validation in Macau after the transfer of sovereignty in December 1999.

Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau Wah had said last year that one of the major reasons to enact the law was to “restore the legal vacuum” as a result of the change in governance.

Secretary for Administration and Justice, Florinda Chan, said in a statement after the bill’s passage at the Assembly that the government would strive to strike a balance between defending national security and protecting residents’ basic rights and freedoms.

“The SAR government asserted that it will continue to strictly comply with the Macau Basic Law which gives residents’ basic rights and freedoms, including freedom of speech, freedom of the press and publication,” Chan added.

A number of lawmakers at the same time called on the government to start focusing on relevant promotion campaigns in order to ensure a full implementation of the law in Macau.

The Secretary agreed with the suggestion, and said that the SAR government would soon launch “territory-wide training, promotion and education work with legal departments and judicial officers being the first to receive special legal training.”

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