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Macau

Macau’s youngest lawmaker Sulu Sou, suspended from office and found guilty over 2016 protest, hopes to retake his seat

Observers have compared him and his legal battles with those of disqualified lawmakers and pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 June, 2018, 3:30pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 June, 2018, 11:30pm

Macau’s youngest lawmaker hopes to return to the Legislative Assembly before the summer holidays, after being fined 40,800 patacas (US$5,000) this week for organising an unauthorised protest near the official residence of the city’s leader, Fernando Chui Sai-on.

“I am ready to return to my seat,” Sulu Sou Ka-hou, 26, who only served about 50 days as a lawmaker before being suspended, told the Post. “I hope to be able to continue pressing on issues like greater government transparency, civil rights, human rights and freedoms.”

Sou, 26, is still facing uncertainty as to whether he can retake his seat because there is a 20-day appeal period.

Observers have compared him with disqualified lawmakers and pro-democracy activists in neighbouring Hong Kong who have been involved in lengthy legal battles.

As a legislator, Sou – who was elected in September last year with more than 9,000 votes – had immunity from prosecution. However, 28 of the 33 Legislative Assembly members voted in a secret ballot on December 4 last year to suspend him from the body so that he could stand trial. It was the first time a lawmaker in Macau had been stripped of his duties since the city’s handover from Portugal to China in 1999.

The fact they condemned us for an illegal protest is a bad sign for society
Sulu Sou Ka-hou, suspended lawmaker

On Tuesday, Sou was found guilty and fined for being involved in an unauthorised protest, but he received no jail time. Another activist, Scott Chiang was ordered to pay a fine of 27,000 patacas (US$3,300).

The court case involving the two – both members of the pro-democracy group New Macau Association – stemmed from a 2016 protest against a donation of 100 million yuan (US$15.6 million) by the Macau Foundation, a government-linked institution, to a university on the mainland.

The activists claimed a conflict of interest existed because the Macau leader was both deputy head of the university’s board and chairman of the foundation’s board of trustees. Chui denied any wrongdoing, and the pair were charged last year.

Following this week’s verdict, both the prosecution and the two activists have 20 days to appeal the judgment.

“It’s a difficult choice for us,” Sou said. “Most supporters think we should not appeal because of the [Legislative Assembly] seat. But we do disagree with the decision … The fact they condemned us for an illegal protest is a bad sign for society. So we are still discussing.”

Asked about the court decision and an appeal, a spokesman for the Macau chief executive had no comment.

Sou, who studied political science in Taiwan and said he had been inspired by Hong Kong’s vibrant political scene, could be disqualified as a lawmaker if he were to spend more than 30 days in jail.

After the appeal deadline passes, Sou said he hoped that steps would be taken to enable his return to the Legislative Assembly before mid-August.

“I am confident that I can return before the summer holidays.”

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A teacher of civil education at a secondary school in Macau for two years, Sou said he planned to continue pursuing his electoral agenda. It includes enhancing the Legislative Assembly and the government’s transparency as well as focusing on education, housing, land and the environment.

Political commentator Leung Kai-yin compared the youngest Macau lawmaker to Hong Kong activists such as Joshua Wong Chi-fung and ousted lawmaker Nathan Law Kwun-chung – the city’s youngest-ever legislator. Wong, Law and others who advocate greater democracy in Hong Kong have been involved in multiple court cases.

Leung said the Macau government could decide to follow Hong Kong officials’ approach and file an appeal, posing further obstacles to Sou’s return. But that would depend on Beijing’s opinion, he believed.

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“Either they think that one young person in the [Legislative] Assembly will be no problem or they can’t stand it,” Leung said, referring to the central government’s liaison office in Macau. “They feel that the sort of social actions organised by the New Macau Association disturb the harmony of society … They are very sensitive about this and they worry that the young people will learn from them.”

The liaison office in Macau plays a similar role to its counterpart in Hong Kong, serving as a spokesman for the central government and overseeing several regional matters.

Many have raised increasing concerns that Beijing is encroaching on the autonomy of both cities. However, the former Portuguese enclave has been less vocal than the former British colony. Sou said the two cities had a “different history, culture, economy and political goals”.

“My understanding is that Hong Kong is more radical, not just the protesters but also the authorities,” he explained. “We also practise our right to protest here, but it’s different. Some in Hong Kong call for independence. We don’t do that here.”

“From the beginning, the New Macau Association has fought for universal suffrage, and we still insist on this principle. But it will be more difficult here than in Hong Kong … It will be a long process in Macau.”

Known as the world’s largest gambling hub, Macau has barred several lawmakers, scholars, pro-democracy activists and Hong Kong journalists from entering the city. One of the most controversial cases happened in March when three writers – including Jung Chang, the author of a biography on Mao Zedong and a critic of China’s political system – were told they could not attend the Macau Literary Festival because authorities suggested they were likely to be barred.