Dissent muted as Macau's security bill glides into law

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 February, 2009, 12:00am

Macau lawmakers yesterday approved a controversial national security bill as some residents rallied outside the legislature building to support its passage.

The legislation, based on Article 23 of Macau's Basic Law, met little opposition when lawmakers voted on its clauses.

A third of the clauses were passed by 24 votes to two and the rest of the clauses were approved unanimously.

The Macau government said it was 'deeply encouraged' by the smooth passage of the law and praised the patriotism of residents who supported it.

More than 100 residents, mostly senior citizens, gathered outside the Legislative Assembly under banners in support of measures to defend national security.

Rally organiser Si Keng-wai, 55, said: 'This law may have pros and cons, but it is important to defend the nation's security and dignity.'

Hong Kong and Macau have the same Article 23 in their mini-constitutions, under which they must legislate to protect the country against crimes such as treason and subversion. The Macau security law seeks to prohibit treason, secession, sedition and subversion against the central government, or theft of state secrets.

It also seeks to prohibit foreign political bodies from conducting activities and establishing ties with regional groups.

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 successful enactment in Macau will put pressure on Hong Kong to revive its security legislation.

Of the 27 lawmakers who voted, only democrats Au Kam-san and Ng Kuok-cheong voted against clauses.

Legislator Jose Coutinho, who represents lower-ranking civil servants, abstained from voting on a few clauses.

The Macau government said it had fulfilled an important constitutional duty by enacting the law and would strike a balance between national security and individual rights.

The central government's liaison office in Macau said the enactment filled a legal gap and was important to the enclave's long-term prosperity and stability.

In Hong Kong, pan-democrats feared the legislating of a security law in Macau, without too much fuss, was intended to set an example for Hong Kong.

Civic Party lawmaker Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee said it was a sad day for Hong Kong. 'Inevitably, there will be greater pressure to revive Article 23 in Hong Kong,' she said.

Democratic Party vice-chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing said the Macau authorities now had 'even more power to abuse'.

'If the central authorities want [our] chief executive to do the same before the end of his term, it wouldn't surprise me,' she said.

Unionist lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan said he feared such legislation would put pressure on workers standing up for their rights.

A Hong Kong government spokesman said there was a 'constitutional duty to enact laws in accordance with the Basic Law to protect national security'. But there were no plans to embark on such legislation, he said, stressing that tackling economic and people's livelihood issues was more pressing.