Political activist Jason Chao was yesterday heard by the Public Prosecutions Office (MP) and remains a suspected of aggravated disobedience. The president of the Open Macau Society, who was detained on Sunday by ten PJ agents, has yet to be officially prosecuted, as police authorities must conduct further investigations.
Chao and another four referendum volunteers, including Scott Chiang, member of the New Macau Association board, were detained on Sunday for allegedly violating the personal data protection legislation.
The MP has so far only heard Jason Chao, and ordered the political activist to report regularly to authorities while the case is under investigation. Jason Chao is not allowed to leave Macau for more than five days without notifying authorities, he revealed.
Speaking to reporters outside the government headquarters yesterday, Chao recalled how he was detained on Sunday – in scenes he described as resembling a “Hollywood” movie.
“I was in Rua do Campo’s polling station (…) I left to go to a public toilet [close to São Francisco garden] and once I had left I was surrounded by nearly ten Judiciary Police officers. It was very similar to a movie scene,” he said, adding that he was not mistreated in any way.
The political activist added that while at the PJ offices in Cotai, he was interrogated briefly, as he declined to answer almost all of the questions.
“I used my right to remain silent, but the PJ requested that I hand over our referendum database [containing personal information of voters] and, of course, I won’t do that. Even if [they] put me in jail for many years, I will never reveal that data. I told them that they need a court order,” Chao added.
Jason Chao also confirmed that the MP has opened a case, following the aggravated disobedience charge, that maintains his status as a suspect.
“I need to report to the MP if I leave town for more than five days. But it’s not important. My personal issues aren’t too important. I am looking at how this will affect the civil referendum,” he said.
Three pro-democracy groups launched an unofficial poll on Sunday gauging support for democratic reforms, but vote-collecting activities were suspended in the morning after four volunteers were detained by PSP agents in the São Lázaro neighborhood.
Volunteers had gathered in five different locations to urge and help citizens to vote on the referendum using tablets, as they were not allowed to set up any physical polling stations as initially planned.
The poll, nevertheless, is still being carried out online, via the macau2014.org website, where 5,951 residents had voted as of press time.
Open Macau Society, Macau Conscience and Macau Youth Dynamics, which are behind the poll, have faced a series of setbacks in the past few weeks, as decisions from both the Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau (IACM) and the Court of Final Appeal (TUI) prevented organizers from setting up polling stations in Macau’s streets.
In order to vote in the referendum, residents have been asked to provide personal data, including their Resident Identity Card (BIR) numbers, including a code on the back.
On Sunday morning, the Office for Personal Data Protection (GPDP) handed Jason Chao a warning letter, stating that if organizers carried on with collecting personal data and processing activities, they would be violating the Personal Data Protection Act. Therefore, GPDP called a halt to personal data processing activities.
Arguing that they had failed to comply with the order, GPDP filed a complaint within the Judiciary Police, which triggered the detentions, said Jason Chao.
The activist deems the letter of warning to be illegal, and says that he will be filing a complaint with the MP, addressing “GPDP’s abuse of power.”
“It was the GPDP who abused the power while issuing that letter. It’s illegal; it deprived me of my right to file an appeal to the Chief Executive and take [the case] to court. I received the letter in person at 11:00 a.m. [on Sunday], and, after an hour, they didn’t understand that we were planning to halt polling activities in the streets so they filed a complaint with the PJ,” Jason recalled.
Legal expert and law professor at the Macau Polytechnic Institute António Katchi also deemed GPDP’s action to be illegitimate.
“The government, through GPDP, continues to reinforce the alleged illegality of the ‘civil referendum,’ since the law does not mention the referendum mechanisms, even though they know that the so-called referendum isn’t a referendum,” he told the Times in an email.
Katchi recalls that the civil referendum is, in fact, a survey. And there’s nothing preventing private entities from organizing a survey. “It is a legal activity, because it is not prohibited by law, as TUI already recognized – implicitly in the first ruling and explicitly in the second one,” he added.
The legal expert says that the referendum organizers are also protected by the right to freedom of expression included in the Basic Law. “If the survey is legal and its political purposes are within the scope attributed to these associations, how could one say that there isn’t a legitimate purpose to collect one’s BIR number (since this type of data is, above all, crucial to ensure the survey’s accuracy)?”
Moreover, professor Katchi recalled that citizens have been providing their personal data voluntarily. “There is no legal reason supporting the detentions that took place on Sunday, nor [the decision] to seize [organizers’] tablets,” he stressed.
In his opinion, GPDP did not act to defend citizens rights, but to repress a political and peaceful activity “with the presumed intention of remaining in the local government’s and Chinese Communist Party’s good graces, so that they can ensure their stay [in office] and possibly progress up the power hierarchy.”
Political scientist Eric Sautede believes that the GPDP and the government’s actions toward the referendum were “disproportionate.” “The whole thing was disproportionate. In the end, in terms of public relations, these [government actions] are clear mistakes; it is bringing negative exposure to Macau, and it’s unwanted and unnecessary. It had the opposite effect of what the government wanted, because it hints that things aren’t fine [in Macau],” he told the Times.
The political scientist doesn’t believe, however, that GPDP acted to please current the Chief Executive, Mr Chui Sai On, who is seeking a second term. Nevertheless, he pointed out that “the whole government is encouraged to try and find anything that would prevent or at least expose the civil referendum as illegal. The Chief Executive has repeated that the referendum is illegal on several occasions.”
Eric Sautede thinks that the number of people who have voted in the referendum so far is quite significant: “It’s an impressive number, but I don’t know if it indicates any legitimacy; but at least it’s a strong indication that people want to have a say in the Chief Executive’s election.”
The online voting is due to continue until August 30. Macau residents have a say on two motions: whether they believe Macau’s Chief Executive should be elected by universal suffrage in 2019; and whether they have confidence in Chui Sai On.
anm members meet chui sai on representatives
New Macau Association (ANM) members met yesterday with Chui Sai On’s campaign representatives. They asked to be received by the Chief Executive, but Vong Hin Fai, his electoral campaign representative, stressed that he was very busy and unable to attend the meeting.
chinese media ‘cool down’ the referendum
The civil referendum and the subsequent suppression have been widely reported in Macau’s English and Portuguese newspapers. Nevertheless, the same cannot be said about the treatment of the news in the Chinese media.
Macau Daily put the story in the A6 page and focused on the alleged aggravated disobedience allegation, as well as the explanation from the Office for Personal Data Protection (GPDP). The newspaper even found a scholar from the University of Macau to comment on the case, who claims that the police’s action is “appropriate.” Hou Kong Daily also takes a similar stance and cites an opinion from the Macau Chamber of Commerce that supports the actions taken by the police. Meanwhile, the position of Jornal Cheng Pou is similar to those of the non-Chinese media. Its report highlights the police’s crackdown on the mobile voting booths. It also includes a response from Sulu Sou, who suggests that GPDP’s action is an insult to the public will.
psp collects voters’ info
The Public Security Police has admitted that it has gathered information from residents who participated in the civil referendum. Online media cited a resident who claimed that after they participated in the civil referendum, a PSP officer asked them to provide their name, ID number, date of birth and phone number. PSP told TDM that, as the civil referendum organizers are alleged to have committed aggravated disobedience, they only collected the residents’ information so that the authorities could ask them to be witnesses and to assist with their investigation. JPL