The Civil Protection Bill, now being considered in detail by the First Standing Committee of the Legislative Assembly (AL), continues to raise concerns from all corners of Macau society, from lawmakers to journalists to activists.
LARGE IN SCOPE
The first impression of the Civil Protection Bill from the First Standing Committee of the Legislative Assembly is that the proposed law is “small in size but large in scope.”
The Committee began its detailed discussion of the proposed legislation yesterday. The president of the Standing Committee, Ho Ion Sang, made his comments on behalf of the working group during a media briefing after the meeting.
According to Ho, “the committee considered that the number of articles in the bill is few but their scope is wide and the law’s provisions are also not clear and did not fully reflect the content of the civil protection work.”
Questioned on the proposal to establish a crime of order and public safety disturbances during emergencies, Ho said that similar provisions are already established by Macau’s Penal Code.
He said that the committee has the opinion that, if there is an amendment regarding this part, it should be an amendment to such a Code instead of being part of a Civil Protection Bill in order to maintain “coherence and consistency.”
Another of the topics addressed by the committee chairman is that the bill fails to clarify the powers of both the Chief Executive and the Secretary for Security, adding that there are several points needing further consideration as well as clarification from the government.
The notes and questions by the AL committee on its first exposure to the bill hint that the earlier hopes expressed by the Secretary for Security, Wong Sio Chak, to have the law in force by this year’s peak typhoon season, would be a difficult task to achieve unless the government decides to drop significant parts of the bill.
THE CONTROVERSIAL ARTICLE 25
Yesterday, the Macau Portuguese and English Press Association (AIPIM) submitted a letter to Ho Ion Sang, in his capacity as President of the First Standing Committee, requesting a meeting with the lawmakers responsible for reviewing the Civil Protection Bill.
The letter seeks to raise awareness of article 25, a particularly controversial aspect of the bill that proposes a prison sentence of up to two years (or up to 240 days’ fine) for the spreading of rumors, fake news or misinformation during emergency situations. The sentence could become three years if it causes public panic or constrains the response of civil protection entities.
“Our aim is to raise awareness on the need to amend article 25 of the bill in order to avoid a potential negative impact on freedom of expression and press freedom whenever a ‘state of immediate prevention’ [state of alarm] is declared,” noted AIPIM.
MISLEADING THE PUBLIC
At an event held by this week by the New Macau Association (ANM), local activist Jason Chao argued that the government was not being entirely honest in using legal examples from foreign jurisdictions to lobby for the legislation.
Chao said that the government had misled the public by highlighting the cases of India, Switzerland and France to support the provision of punishable rumor spreading.
ANM expressed its concern with article 25 of the Civil Protection Bill, saying that the requirement of “proactivity” is extremely vague.
Moreover, the Association claims the government’s justification misrepresented international examples, which in turn misled the public. It raised questions about the real intention behind the bill, which they say is to control online speech.
The Association will submit its opinions to the Legislative Assembly, adding that the government should respond to their concerns. Otherwise, they say the relevant provisions should be withdrawn.
The Association thinks the provision will set up some kind of obstruction of communication. Director Rocky Chan said that the government had not elaborated on the concerned provisions, which may eventually cause a chilling effect that hinders the multifaceted spread of information.
The media may only be permitted to report “official” information under such conditions, suggested Chan.
The government claimed that many countries or regions, among them India, Switzerland and France, impose criminal punishment on the dissemination of rumors.
However, Jason Chao pointed out that the international examples cited by the government are highly misleading; courts in India have even ruled against the legislation, calling it unconstitutional.
The legislative intent of Switzerland and France is to punish certain people who intend to spread false information that poses a danger to a person or property, rather than to control the spread of rumors. Chao added that generally such legislation was enacted to help the media verify its information. Staff reporters