The president of the Open Macau Society and political activist Jason Chao, as well as four civil referendum volunteers, were detained by police authorities yesterday for allegedly violating the personal data protection law.
Yesterday, three pro-democracy groups launched an unofficial poll on universal suffrage and democratic development, but vote collecting activities in the streets were suspended after four volunteers, including Scott
Chiang – a member of the New Macau Association board – were detained by Public Security Police (PSP) officers in the São Lázaro neighborhood.
Judiciary Police agents detained Jason Chao whilst he was participating in the referendum activities in front of the Public Administration Building. The political activist was taken to the PJ Cotai offices and released yesterday evening.
Chao told the Times that he is due to report to PJ today, as the MP is planning to charge him with aggravated disobedience. “PJ has definitely violated the law, overstepping its power,” the activist said.
He’s deliberating whether to pursue legal action against PJ, but said that it will have to be later on, as he has other matters to deal with at present.
The poll continues to be held online and, as of press time, 3808 people had voted through the macau2014.org website.
The Office for Personal Data Protection’s (GPDP) assistant coordinator, Yang Chongwei, said yesterday in a press conference that referendum organizers had violated the Personal Data Protection Act as they were collecting personal data for “illegitimate purposes.”
The law states that personal data should be processed for legitimate purposes. GPDP said that the Macau Basic Law does not address the civil referendum and therefore such polls are neither protected nor recognized by law.
GPDP issued a statement on Friday reminding referendum organizers that they would be violating data protection legislation if they were to move forward with the poll. “Organizers cannot process personal data for the purpose of a civil referendum,” it read.
To vote, residents are asked to provide personal data, such as their Macau Resident Identity number.
Yesterday morning, GPDP staff handed Jason Chao a warning letter, stating that if organizers carried on with personal data collecting activities, they could be charged with aggravated disobedience.
Article number 40 of the Personal Data Protection Act was also used to detain them, as it states that any person who, after being notified, fails to interrupt, cease or block the processing of personal data may be charged with aggravated disobedience.
Launched by the Open Macau Society, Macau Youth Dynamics and Macau Conscience, the unofficial referendum has faced a series of setbacks, as decisions from both the Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau and the Court of Final Appeal prevented organizers from setting up physical polling stations in Macau’s streets.
Referendum organizers have instead resorted to an electronic voting method, handing people in the streets a tablet through which they can vote.
In a press conference held yesterday by the New Macau Association (ANM) – which is not involved in organizing the poll but does support it – Sulu Sou, ANM’s president, said that the number of voters actually increased after the volunteers were taken away by police agents. He accused the public departments of misinterpreting the law, whilst accusing the GPDP of “overstepping its power.”
“If voters are willing to provide their personal data, public departments do not have the authority to intervene because it is not a public crime,” he said. The recently elected Sulu Sou recalled that ANM launched an unofficial referendum back in 2012, and nothing happened.
Andrew Cheong, a member of the Open Macau Society, said that the volunteers who were detained were students. Also attending the press conference, he stressed that Jason Chao was detained after vote-collecting activities in the streets had been suspended. “Jason said he was going to the bathroom; two or three minutes after, we received a text message saying he had been detained by PJ,” he recalled.
Andrew Cheong said that they are also considering taking legal action against the police authorities.
Lawmaker and member of the New Macau Association Ng Kuok Cheong also spoke in yesterday’s press conference, stressing that nobody was violating residents’ freedom and rights, nor disturbing public order. “[Yet] police authorities have taken people to stations and are not letting them out. What is going on?” he demanded.
He also accused the GPDP of “showing loyalty” to the MSAR government. “GPDP seems to have exaggerated a little bit, not only paying attention and asking questions about data protection, but directly accusing you of violating a particular article of the law, which is very assertive.”
Professor and ANM member Bill Chou commented on yesterday’s events as well, saying that the government only deems the referendum “unacceptable” because the turnout of the ballot “will potentially be embarrassing for the Chief Executive.”
Poll organizers will meet three representatives of Chui Sai On’s campaign today. The meeting was scheduled a week ago, and they intend to address the referendum issue, as well as the detention of the activists.
Although organizers reported a total of seven threats to the website, which originated in mainland China, the website remained operational until press time. Online voting will be open until August 30.
chui sai on defends police action
Chief Executive Chui Sai On reiterated yesterday that the civil referendum has no legal basis, and that police authorities acted accordingly when they arrested four civil referendum volunteers and political activist Jason Chao. Whilst on the campaign trail yesterday, Chui Sai On met English and Portuguese media representatives. Urged to comment on the activists’ detention, Chui Sai On said that his opinion on the poll remained unchanged: “The civil referendum is not in accordance with the MSAR Basic Law (…) the referendum has no legal basis (…) police actions were in accordance with the law and we shall see what happens next when the legal process begins. The judicial system is always independent and works in accordance with the Basic Law,” he said.