Government denies plan to limit protest rights

Friday, September 10, 2010
Issue 1112, Page 3
Word count: 858
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

Amid the concerns raised after an internal report from the Secretary for Security’s Office revealed the Government’s plan to limit protest rights, lawmaker Chan Wai Chi said it is unnecessary to change the related law at present, unless the purpose is to enhance the protection for local people’s basic rights and obligations.

Meanwhile, the secretary’s office issued a press statement on Wednesday night, stressing that “the related document is only an internal memorandum and has carried out a technical analysis solely from the legal perspective in order to study the specific law-enforcement situation of the related law”.

The office also reiterated that the authority “respects residents’ right to assemble and demonstrate, but at this moment there is no need to revise the related law”.

According to this month’s Macau Business magazine, an assessment by the secretary’s office on May 7 this year suggests that it is time to consider “imposing restrictions of special scope, when, on reasonable grounds, one fears serious injury to public order and peace, and the safety of persons and property because of the inadequacy of the locations for assembly or demonstrations”.

Before the May 1 protest this year, the Court of Final Appeal had twice ruled against the decisions of the Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau (IACM) to reject requests for the organisation of two separate rallies. The court said that the Government could not restrict the use of public spaces for assembly and demonstration.

The law regarding the freedom of assembly and the right to demonstrate was revised in December 2008, so that organisers are not obliged to entrust a lawyer when filing an appeal to the court after the administration denies their requests to organise an assembly or protest.

Chan Wai Chi, a directly-elected lawmaker, recalled that the law revision was “a response” to Article 27 of the Basic Law that protects civilians’ basic rights and obligations and the Sino-Portuguese Joint Declaration that ensures Macau residents’ freedom of assembly, association and demonstration.

“Therefore, the rights to assemble and to demonstrate provide a basic protection to residents’ public power, not that the law is to restrict the use of the rights,” Chan told the Macau Daily Times.

The internal assessment report suggests that the plan to impose more restrictions on assembly and protest rights is to avoid serious injury to public order, the safety of persons and property.

Yet, the lawmaker deemed that if it is the case, the explanation “completely contradicts the purpose of the law”, and is not justified.

“I think that after the 2008 law revision, people’s freedom of assembly and demonstration can be maintained and safeguarded, the public order and residents’ lives can also be well protected,” he said.

“I can’t see that the law has given rise to situations where residents’ lives and property are endangered,” he told the MDT.

If the Government intends to change the law because the Court of Final Appeal has twice ruled against the IACM, “it’ll be a very dangerous act”, Chan said.

He explained that it might imply that the Government will continue to change the laws whenever they are unfavourable to the administration, in order to “give convenience to the governance and achieve their intention to control [the people]”.

He added: “Only a tyrannical or dictatorial government will continue to make use of the laws to limit citizens’ rights and obligations as a means to suppress them.”

If the objective of the law revision is to “better reflect or protect civilians’ rights and obligations, and if there is a need to do so”, the lawmaker said the public should support and agree with it.

Meanwhile, Jason Chao Teng Hei, president of the New Macau Association, also said that to prevent serious injury to public order, the safety of persons and property would not be a justified ground to amend the law.

“Macau’s space for freedom of speech is already very limited. If the Government is going to be able to control the ways of how people can voice their concerns, the space will just get even narrower,” Chao told the MDT.

Internal document leaked?

Tong Io Cheng, associate professor of the Faculty of Law, University of Macau and a Chief Executive-appointed lawmaker, told the MDT that what surprised him was how a supposedly confidential assessment report was obtained by an outsider.

“What I don’t understand is why [information of] such a normal operation could be leaked which then turns into a matter that requires the authority to come out to explain. I feel strange that an internal Government document could be exposed so easily,” Tong said.

He explained that it would be a “very normal operation” if the assessment report was prepared after the secretary’s office found that some officials have doubts about the law, or deemed that there is the possibility to improve the law, thus requesting the legal department to study the issue or provide advice.

Tong did comment that the Government cannot deprive people’s rights to assemble and demonstrate which are stipulated in the Basic Law.

“But I cannot comment on whether the Government’s intention is justified or not, without any specific proposals at the moment,” he added.


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