Editorial | Of eggs and paper planes

Paulo Coutinho

In 1970, Prime Minister Harold Wilson was being harshly attacked by the opposition Conservative Party and by many people because of unpopular tax measures he had implemented, which had increased the cost of living in the UK.

On this day, June 1 in that distant year of last century, Wilson was hit by a young Tory supporter with a raw egg while the incumbent PM was campaigning in North West London for the reelection of the Labour Party.

His comments became legendary: “Eggs must be cheap enough to throw about,” he said teasing those who complained against the rising costs.

Four days after the egg incident, Harold Wilson’s wife was hit by a flour bomb, in South London.

Asked afterwards if he felt the police should be given increased powers to deal with violent demonstrators, PM Wilson said “freedom was part of a democracy and a respect for the rights of others.”

You can relive this extremely educational episode on page 24, but that is beyond my point.

Forty-eight years on in Macau, on Tuesday, two young democracy advocates were given hefty fines for a petty “transgression” in a peaceful demonstration. There were a few paper planes thrown into Chui Sai On’s official residence – not at him! – during an assembly of a ridiculously low number of people, but what is that compared to smashing an egg on the forehead of the Prime Minister of Her Majesty the Queen of England?

I can just guess what the local authorities would have done to the young, now very old, conservative. He would have been thrown to jail merciless for many, many years.

What is really sad about this story, besides the apparent connivance of justice with the establishment, is that society has somehow accepted the guilty as charged verdict with a sigh of relief.

As a legal expert told me the other day, “the expectations of justice being served are so low in Macau that people see this as a lesser evil, considering they were not charged with jail time.”

Make no mistake, the Court of First Instance ruled that Sulu Sou and Scott Chiang were guilty of a criminal offense, unlawful assembly, when they were simply trying to exert their right to express their voice by handing a petition over to the Chief Executive.

The act of “kindness” of Judge Cheong for not handing out a prison sentence – first-time offenders, no prolonged standoff, no violence involved – is but rubbing sand in our eyes.

“The ruling indicates the judiciary is adhering to an authoritarian attitude towards demonstrations and minor incidents that naturally occur during demonstrations,” scholar António Katchi told the Times on Wednesday. “A peaceful attempt to resist police orders in such a heated atmosphere, especially when those orders are perceived as arbitrary, is something so natural that it is usually tolerated in a free society.”

Other opinion-makers voiced their support for the “independence” and “fairness” of the court, adding to the generalized illusion that justice was served. It was not.

As Scott Chiang said to reporters after the court sentence, in a Chinese parable, “We believe that we are the chicken killed to scare the monkey.”

And that sums it up: this court ruling was an act of dissuasion to the young people at home and their parents, to show that taking part in demonstrations may be a bad idea. Not to mention throwing an egg at Chief Chui, who is no Harold Wilson.

PS: This is the 11th anniversary edition of the Macau Daily Times. Eleven years on, the Times reach has increased significantly, namely online. Among media outlets in Macau, our website ranks second only to Ou-Mun Daily, according to Alexa.com. That shows how important the English press is, and will be, in a multicultural place that aims to be recognized as an international city.

Categories Editorial Macau