Despite avoiding some of the most controversial clauses contained in the 2003 Hong Kong version, Macau's national security proposal announced yesterday might still threaten civil liberties, a human rights group said. But because of Macau's controls, more stringent than Hong Kong's, observers said they believed the proposal to ban acts such as treason, subversion and sedition may cause less outcry there than in Hong Kong, although the controls may possibly set a precedent for Hong Kong. Law Yuk-kai, director of Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, said the vague definition of some offences, plus the general lack of protection for civil liberties, made the bill more worrying than its shelved Hong Kong counterpart. 'The worst thing is the lack of a public-interest defence clause in the proposed offence of leaking state secrets,' Mr Law said. 'Given the generally more stringent criminal laws in Macau, the vaguely defined proposal will create tighter controls than in Hong Kong.' He said the lighter prison terms for offences - such as a maximum 25 years' jail for treason compared to a life sentence in the Hong Kong bill - was already the toughest penalty available under Macau law. Unlike the final version of Hong Kong's draft bill in 2003, Macau's proposed bill does not contain several controversial proposals such as powers that would have allowed Hong Kong police to search without a warrant facilities the government deemed linked to groups that threatened national security. Notably absent is a mechanism whereby the government could ban local groups 'subordinate' to any groups banned on the mainland, such as Falun Gong, and on grounds of national security - a clause scrapped in Hong Kong's draft bill following a 500,000-strong protest in July 2003. But it contains clauses also carried in the Hong Kong version, such as a ban on intimidating the central government and compelling it to perform or not perform certain acts. Thus, critics fear freedom of speech such as demands for the end of Communist Party rule, or calls to vindicate those killed in Tiananmen Square in 1989, will be affected. Hong Kong Journalists' Association chairman Tam Chi-keung, who researches Macau affairs, said the proposed bill's impact on Macau would be less than what it might have been in Hong Kong. 'With or without Article 23, the people in Macau support the government with minimal dissenting voices,' Mr Tam said, citing tighter government control and public self-censorship. Macau's Secretary for Administration and Justice, Florinda da Rosa Silva Chan, will lead the legislative process. Although University of Hong Kong law professor Albert Chen Hung-yee said he believed Macau's proposal could not be compared with the Hong Kong one because of differences in the legal systems, Civic Party lawmakers said Hong Kong should be on 'full alert'. Party lawmaker Alan Leong Kah-kit said: 'One must not forget that this will still be the first time a special administrative region within China legislates for a national security law.'