Lawyer Jorge Menezes has appealed to the security forces in both Macau and Portugal to protect his family after they were threatened in a cyberattack that has the hallmarks of triad activity.
Widely viewed as an attack on the legal profession, Macau lawyers are rallying around Jorge Menezes with messages of solidarity.
Last week, the lawyer’s email account was hacked and a message was sent to himself with the negative image of his relative’s resident identity card (BIR) attached. The hacking occurred on the eve of an important trial hearing in Macau and is being interpreted as an attack against Menezes, his family and the legal profession.
Contacted yesterday by the Times, Menezes declined to comment on the emailed threat on the basis that it is now under investigation by the authorities in Macau.
News of the threat was first reported by Hoje Macau, which reviewed a letter sent by Menezes and addressed to Portugal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. According to the Portuguese-language daily, additional letters were sent to Macau’s Secretary of Security, Wong Sio Chak, the President of Portugal, the Secretary of State of the Portuguese Communities, and the Consul-General of Portugal in Macau.
In the letter seen by Hoje Macau, dated October 15, Menezes appeals to the government of Portugal to intervene “in the manner that it deems most efficient, with the authorities of the MSAR, so that they act to investigate and, mainly, to prevent the materialization of this threat.”
“I am addressing […] following an unmistakable threat which I received a few days ago, this time addressed to one of my family members. I have already filed a criminal complaint with the Macau prosecutor and addressed a letter to the Secretary,” starts the letter.
“Someone signed in to my email account, sent me an email, as if sent by me, and attached in a threatening manner the back of my family member’s Resident Identity Card (BIR), stating his name and the ‘negative photography,’ whose gloomy aspect has an obvious and symbolic significance to local mafias,” explains Menezes in the letter.
“The cruel step of mafias now threatening one of my completely identified family members, telling me that they know how to get into my email, in my house, in our lives, compels me to appeal to the Government of Portugal [to intervene].”
Menezes also asserts that the identity card in question was only recently issued, “has always been with me, has never been used,” and there are no electronic copies on his computer or mobile phone.
Menezes’s immediate family left the Special Administrative Region in 2013 after he was ambushed in a shocking broad daylight attack in downtown Macau. Bearing the signs of triad activity, two mainland assailants cornered the Portuguese lawyer and came at him with bricks strapped to their hands.
Local prosecution and judicial authorities did not conclude a link to organized crime and instead treated the case as an isolated attack. Earlier this year, one of the assailants was sentenced to one year and nine months imprisonment, while the other was acquitted.
News of the crude cyberattack was quickly overshadowed by what many in the legal profession considered to be inappropriate, off-the-cuff remarks offered by Jorge Neto Valente, president of the Macau Lawyers Association (AAM), on the sidelines of an event on Friday.
In his correspondence with the media, Neto Valente used the opportunity to draw attention to his poor relationship with Menezes. “I have known [Menezes] for many years, over 20 years now, and I don’t want to make any comments on his personality because if I make comments on his personality, he is the one that will file a case against me,” he said.
Neto Valente said that the association had not received any reports or complaints about the incident. “I don’t know anything about the matter,” he told the media. “I don’t know what is going on and so I can’t comment.”
Only when asked in general terms whether threats to lawyers might jeopardize the exercise of their duties, Neto Valente answered, “of course it can, but not just a lawyer, this applies to any person because it puts the threatened person into a crisis situation, naturally.”
“Certainly, I cannot defend that any lawyer could be threatened or attacked. I can’t be in support of such a thing. [But] in this particular and individual case, I don’t know what is going on and so I can’t comment.”
The inopportune comment about Menezes’s character has invited measures of concern and condemnation from lawyers in the city, including many at the AAM.
Miguel de Senna Fernandes, a lawyer and a leader of the Macanese community in Macau, described the personal aggrievances between Menezes and Valente as “absolutely irrelevant to the rest of us” and called on his colleagues in the profession to “unequivocally show their solidarity with Menezes.”
“Surely, this is an attempt [to constrict] the free exercise of the lawyers’ profession,” he said. “I don’t know if it has to do with the vile attack perpetrated against him in 2013, but apart from this, any threat against a lawyer is damaging of his practice and is an attempt against the free exercise of his profession. This alone is terrible.”
“Threat, coercion or other restrictions on the freedom and rights of a lawyer are abominable acts and should therefore be severely punished,” commented Leonel Alves, a lawyer and member of the Executive Council, the core policy-making organ of the administration.
Lawyer Pedro Leal said that although he “unconditionally” supports Neto Valente in his role as AAM’s president, the association leader had carelessly “trivialized” the situation.
“[Neto Valente] should have opted for a simpler statement,” said Leal. “However, by commenting on his poor or nonexistent personal relationship with Menezes, Neto Valente trivialized a situation that is gravely serious.”
Leal said that the incident was “necessarily an attack on the free exercise of the law” and constituted “a threat to all lawyers, and if Menezes will not [capitulate], more fragile colleagues may shudder their way and give up advocating this or that cause.”
“Knowing Menezes, as I do, it does not seem to me that any threat, wherever it comes from, can have any effect [on his practice],” continued Leal. “However, this threat is even more serious than the aggression against Menezes a few years ago. It seems that, as the first attempt of intimidation had no effect whatsoever, now [the author of this threat has sought] a more fragile and unprotected target.”
“As AAM’s president, Neto Valente must represent all lawyers equally. Anyone who heard Neto Valente’s statements gets the impression that Menezes may be blamed for the threat he was a victim of. At least, I understood it that way. This not only trivializes the situation but may result in less attention being paid to the investigation of the crime,” argued the lawyer.
“If, for example in Portugal, someone listens to the statements of Neto Valente, they may think that Menezes is a ‘madman’, whose conduct as a lawyer would be reprehensible. And that is not true by any means!”
Alves further remarked that the AAM, as a representative body of lawyers in Macau, should act accordingly to the seriousness of the threat “to ensure the effective exercise of a profession which is intrinsically linked to the realization of constitutional rights and freedoms.”
“The AAM president’s statements are unfortunate and reveal a lack of ethical and moral stature to run an association of free lawyers,” commented lawyer Sérgio de Almeida Correia, a veteran in the profession, who last year grappled with Valente in a pre-election spat after Correia announced his desire to take over the leadership of the AAM.
“It seems that Neto Valente cannot separate the exercise of his institutional functions from his personal interests,” added Correia. “No one had asked him if he was in close relations with Menezes, or what he thought about the personality or character of a colleague.”
Neto Valente’s unwillingness to defend a colleague whose profession he claims to represent is, according to Correia, a “gross violation” of Macau’s Lawyers Code of Practice, as well as the recommendations of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which in 2017 passed a resolution that “condemns acts of violence, intimidation and reprisals against judges, prosecutors and lawyers themselves and reminds States of their duty to protect these persons and their families, by condemning such acts and bringing the perpetrators to justice.”
“In my view he tried to discredit a colleague, […] but with this he only revealed his lack of nobility upon exercising his duties,” said Correia. “His statements are a disgrace and a shame to all true lawyers anywhere in the world. In Portugal, under the Bar Association (Ordem dos Advogados), he would certainly be punished for what he said.” Paulo Coutinho & Daniel Beitler