Security law finds strong support though residents haven't read it

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 February, 2009, 12:00am

Enthusiasm for Macau's national security bill has greatly overshadowed the minority who are concerned about the effects the impending law might have on free speech.

Residents are supporting the legislation even though they do not know its details, a survey suggests.

Io Un-chi is typical of those who back the legislation. She took part in a rally outside the legislature on Wednesday holding a placard supporting the bill even though she admitted she couldn't read, and therefore did not know what it said.

'When the country is good, everyone will be good,' said Ms Io, 76.

The legislation enjoys nearly universal support. In a survey by the Macau General Union of Neighbourhood Associations, completed last year, 92 per cent of respondents said they were in favour of the security bill. Yet 65 per cent of the total said they did not know the details of the bill. The Macau government has said it will strike a balance between national security and individual rights.

A small minority remain cautious, however, fearing the effects the bill might have on free speech.

Ho Heng-kuok, a union leader and former editor of a workers' newspaper, said he would be more careful in making public comments after the law comes into effect.

'There is psychological pressure created by the law,' said Mr Ho, director of the Macau Workers Union. 'I'll be more careful about what I say.'

Mr Ho was investigated by police over his published criticism of a labour official last September.

The Public Prosecutions Office rejected an attempt by police to charge him with defamation, citing inadequate evidence. But his newspaper folded after key backers pulled out 'under pressure', Mr Ho said.

He said fellow workers were behind the security law out of a sense of patriotism but they knew few details about it.

'Some workers know nothing about the law's contents,' he said. 'They hear words like 'sedition' and 'treason' and think the bill should be enacted.'

The Macau legislature passed the bill on Wednesday and it will take effect as early as next week, pending the signature of Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau-wah.

Hong Kong and Macau have the same Article 23 in their mini-constitutions, which demands that their governments legislate to protect national security.

Macau's law prohibits treason, secession, sedition and subversion against the central government, and theft of state secrets.

It also prohibits foreign political organisations from conducting activities that endanger national security in the region. Offences under the security law are punishable by 10 to 25 years' jail.

In 2003, an attempt to introduce a national security law in Hong Kong triggered a massive protest, and the legislation was shelved. It is believed the law's enactment in Macau will put pressure on Hong Kong to revive its security legislation.

Un Chon, a netizen who was detained last year for comments he published, said he felt frustrated about the inevitability of the law coming into force.

'It didn't matter whether people opposed it or not - the law was bound to be passed,' Mr Un said. Last September, he posted comments in a popular internet forum about a bank run. Police took him in for questioning and charged him with 'inciting collective disobedience'.

The Public Prosecutions Office later decided against charging Mr Un, citing inadequate evidence, but he said he had become less outspoken after the incident.

Au Kam-san, one of the two lawmakers who voted against some clauses of the law on Wednesday, said the enactment would have little effect on his outspoken style.

He said the authorities' control over society was already strong enough without the law.

'The law is made to set an example for Hong Kong. Macau authorities don't actually need such a law to control society. An internal security law targeting organised crime and terrorism can be used to deal with anyone,' he said. 'The Article 23 law is only a symbol - a sword hanging over people's head that will almost never fall.'