Lawmaker Pereira Coutinho questions lifting of immunity

Pereira Coutinho (center) at the Legislative Assembly

Recently, suspended lawmaker Sulu Sou declared that his conviction last month was unlawful, arguing that the Legislative Assembly’s (AL) decision to lift his prosecutorial immunity was made on the basis of a different crime to the one he was trialed for and sentenced to a 120-day fine.

After Sou’s lawyer Jorge Menezes deemed the judgment “null and void,” lawmaker José Pereira Coutinho sent a letter to the president of the AL, Ho Iat Seng, questioning the matter of raising prosecutorial immunity.

In the letter to Ho, to which the Times had access, Coutinho classifies the case as “serious and requiring reflection,” noting that the lawmakers were informed that lawmaker Sou “was being accused on a case of aggravated disobedience to the police authorities and that should be the crime he would be trialed for. However, and without informing the AL, the court [Court of First Instance (TJB)] changed the crime, trialing [Sou] for a crime that had never been described in the accusation, [nor] in the official letter that the court wrote to the AL.”

The lawmaker argues that as the AL Committee that analyzed the case noted, the initial crime “was the main and only reason that justified the voting and decision,” saying that if the AL had to decide on the lifting of Sou’s prosecutorial immunity so he could be trialed for the crime of aggravated disobedience, they should have also decided on whether his immunity should be lifted for him to be eligible to be trialed for the other crime.

Coutinho accuses the judiciary authorities of “luring” the lawmakers with “sweet accusations” to facilitate the decision to lift the prosecutorial immunity, and at a later stage, changing the accusation to a more “bitter” situation, “transferring in this way a competence that is solely from the AL to the court.” He considers that the lawmaker was trialed in a clear, “violation of his prosecutorial immunity. This jeopardizes both the respectability due to the AL as well as the principle of separation of powers [between the judiciary and the legislative system].”

Due to the facts described, Coutinho calls on the president of the AL to officially request the TJB to suspend “any measures of execution of the sentence and to take measures in order to reestablish the breached legality.”

In the letter, Coutinho also expressed concerns that these “miscarriages of justice can cause a delay in the return of lawmaker Sou to the house where he belongs, hoping that AL can act in way to allow him to return without any loss of his rights.”

On May 29, Macau’s TJB found Sou guilty of the crime of unlawful assembly and sentenced him and fellow political activist Scott Chiang to 120-day fines after a process where the AL was called to decide on the lifting of Sou’s immunity.

Speaking to journalists this week, Ho said that he respects the decision of the court. “The suspension of the duties as a lawmaker was only so that he [Sou] could stand trial. Regarding what then happens in the courtroom we can’t know [in advance],” he said.

Ho also commented on the possible return of Sou to the AL as a lawmaker saying, “In case [both the defense and the prosecution] do not present any appeal, Sou can retake his position but, of course, needs to pay the fine first,” adding, “after the payment of the fine and the delivery [to the AL] of proof of such payment the AL does not need any other procedures.”

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