Macau's chief executive will be able to apply for legal assistance from the government if he finds himself being taken to court over his public duties, according to a bill under scrutiny by the city's Legislative Assembly. It has caused widespread debate and outraged some critics, who fear it will be another piece of legislation that curbs freedom. The bill, the Implementation of Judicial Assistance to Civil Servants, offers the same protection to senior officials, all civil servants, prosecutors and judges. Retired public servants - if their previous public duties cause them legal problems - are also entitled to the benefits of the new law. Under the bill, public servants can apply for legal aid if they become victims of acts of threat or revenge, if their lives are under threat, if they are hurt, or their freedom and assets are under threat in connection with their public duties. The chief executive would have the power to approve all such legal aid applications, including his own. He would also be responsible for deciding the amount of legal aid to be granted to each applicant. Last year Macau approved the controversial national security bill, which prohibits treason, secession, sedition and subversion against the central government, or theft of state secrets. It also prohibits foreign political bodies from conducting activities locally or establishing ties with local groups. Offences under the law are punishable by 10 to 25 years' jail. Macau officials stress the bill is essential to offer legal protection to all public servants to ensure they can do their work without fear. A government spokesman said it would listen to public views and protect civil liberties according to the Basic Law. Journalists and activists are unconvinced. The Macau Journalists Association has called it the world's most draconian law on curbing a free press. 'It is a severe blow to freedom of the press and of expression. It will create a chilling effect and weaken the media's supervisory role,' association spokesman Lee Kong said. Macau lawyer Miguel Fernandes questioned the rationale for extending protection to the chief executive and principal officials. 'Our government should be transparent and officials should be open to criticism. It is a big question, whether the law will silence criticism against the chief executive and his officials. 'I agree our public servants have to be better protected when carrying out their public duties. The problem is how to differentiate protecting public servants from abusing privileges,' he said. Lawmaker Kwan Tsui-hang was concerned that the bill would jeopardise the separation of powers, as it covered judges. They will have to seek the chief executive's approval to get legal aid. Jose Coutinho, a legislator and former civil servant, opposes the bill. 'It is an excuse to give senior officials unlimited financial support to sue those critical of them. Junior civil servants don't like this law. It is completely unnecessary. If they are sincere on helping junior civil servants, they should strengthen their support when they face trouble. The whole thing can be done without a law.' Un Pui-seong of Macau Youth Dynamics said the bill was unacceptable. 'The biggest problem of the bill is it allows the government to use public funds to sue the general public. It is sheer power abuse.' Un and her friends will organise protests when the Legislative Assembly resumes sitting in mid-October. Public uproar prompted the Legislative Assembly to extend discussion on the bill. It will continue to examine the bill in October. The proposed legislation was originally due to enter its final stage before the assembly adjourned for the summer. Heavy criticism has already forced the government to drop a clause that allows public servants to use legal aid to protect their honour, which would allow officials to sue others for defamation by using public funds. Lee of the journalists' association called the amendment cosmetic. '[The fact] they can't use public money to sue us for hurting their honour doesn't mean they can't use the same law to sue us for causing them emotional pain, or other excuses.'