National security | Lawyers say Macau need not copy Hong Kong’s draconian bill

The introduction of a stringent national security law in Hong Kong need not require equally strict legislation to be passed in Macau, according to lawyers and lawmakers contacted by Macau Daily Times, because the circumstances of the two special administrative regions of China are completely different from one another.
The Central Government handed a controversial national security bill to Hong Kong last week on the occasion of the territory’s birthday, hoping to end more than a year of crippling protests.
The bill is far stricter than anyone had anticipated and has prompted international condemnation and likely U.S. sanctions that could change the face of Hong Kong forever.
Many saw it coming. For more than one year, Hong Kong protesters had demanded that Beijing halt its incursions into the local autonomy enjoyed by the city under the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ framework. Beijing and its pro-establishment proxies replied that ‘Two Systems’ could only be realized if ‘One Country’ was respected.
Beijing finally lost its patience and decided that if Hong Kong could not legislate on the matter, then national-level organs would do so on its behalf.
Macau’s situation could not be more different. Macau passed its own national security bill more than a decade ago and to date nobody has ever been prosecuted under the law.
Nevertheless, the situation has already prompted some in Macau to hint at the 2009 national security legislation being brought in line with the more stringent provisions in force in Hong Kong. Among them are Macau’s Secretary for Administration and Justice André Cheong Weng Chon and Secretary for Security Wong Sio Chak.
According to Portuguese daily Jornal Tribuna de Macau, the local government is already preparing to legislate for a new Beijing-led commission in Macau to oversee the safeguarding of national security. The new commission will mirror an institution being crafted in Hong Kong, as stipulated under the new national security bill.
“The signs aren’t good,” admitted Macau-based lawyer Jorge Menezes, when asked if Macau should expect a more draconian update. “The Secretary for Administration and Justice hinted that something more needed to be done. […] The Macau government may copy the Hong Kong law or introduce a slightly milder version.”
A staunch defender of free speech, Menezes warned that the new Hong Kong law “is a great weapon to [suppress] freedom of expression and criminalize dissent.”
“It may well be an old tale of totalitarian regimes: a nervous dictator concerned with keeping his seat at all costs, and willing to go as far as it takes for his regime to survive. If necessary, to the detriment of public interest and the international order,” he added. “Dictators are greedy. So, yes, it is possible that they’ll come and knock on Macau’s door.”
“My conviction is that we do not need to do more as long as it is not required by social or political conditions. A revision is not needed since we don’t have new threats in the Macau SAR,” said lawyer Sérgio de Almeida Correia. “Compared with Hong Kong, we had no demonstrations, no insurrectionary acts, no violence against property or persons, and no destruction of public property.”
“We should not follow Hong Kong just because it may look nice in Beijing or just to please the [Chinese Communist Party] hardliners,” he said.
Lawmaker Sulu Sou, one of the most vocal democracy advocates in Macau, also believes it “is totally unnecessary to change everything to match the Hong Kong version.”
“Some people want to show their political loyalty to the Central Government [by arguing in favor of a revision],” he said, “but even some pro-establishment figures also see no need to change the law.”
Not all pro-establishment figures agree.
The president of the Macau Lawyers Association (AAM), who last year expressed solidarity with anti-extradition bill protesters in Hong Kong, now says that the national security legislation will bring much-needed stability to Hong Kong. Remarking on his confidence in the rule of law, AAM President Neto Valente suggested that Macau’s own legislation could be toughened to match that in Hong Kong.
“The circumstances in Macau and Hong Kong are very different,” acknowledged lawyer José Álvares, before stressing that “laws are not immutable, and just because a law has not been used [to prosecute individuals], that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be revised.”
“In the case of the national security legislation, I think that the government is in the best situation to make a judgment about whether a revision is needed. Remember that legislators need to think ahead and consider matters ahead of the arising issues,” said Álvares.
For lawmaker Pereira Coutinho, the national security legislation makes little difference. “I think having or not having [a revision of the law] is the same,” he told Macau Daily Times. “Any revised version would not make much difference in Macau.”
Lawmaker Chan Chak Mo told public broadcaster TDM over the weekend that he believes there is no present need to tighten Macau’s laws dealing with matters of national security.
“In all these years, Macau has seen no significant social incident, so I don’t see an urgency to tighten the National Security Law in Macau,” said Chan, who also sits on consultative bodies on the mainland. “But it is the government to decide after all.”
Should the government decide to update the national security legislation, Correia hopes “the revision […] will not be to take some books out of circulation or to allow Macau residents or foreigners to be trialed in China according to Chinese criminal laws, as it is happening in Hong Kong, because it would be a huge violation of the Macau Basic law and of the Sino-Portuguese Joint Declaration.”
The temperature in Hong Kong has changed in the past week, and the people of Macau can sense this too, even from across the Pearl River estuary.
As the June Fourth museum was reportedly rushing to digitalize its archives this weekend, libraries and booksellers were removing controversial titles. Pro-democracy groups were being disbanded as ordinary people removed social media posts that could land them in trouble.
Social commentator Johnson Ian said that nobody in Macau wants to see this climate cross the estuary.
“I don’t think there is a need to revise Macau’s national security law because the law is already serious enough for [our situation],” said Ian. That is also the view of the general public, he said, because “nobody wants to change the situation now.”
“The Central Government will observe the reaction of Hong Kong [to the new law] and prepare the next step. […] I think in the short-term, there will be no impact in Macau from the Hong Kong national security law, but in the long-term there may be an effect in how it is interpreted.”
For Sulu Sou, the effects are already being felt in Macau.
“There is some psychological or emotional impact on Macau people now,” said Sou. “In Macau, someone might shout a slogan but know they are not violating the law. Today, in Hong Kong, they might be arrested [for saying the same thing]. People are now afraid that some behavior might violate the new law.”
Asked if he was afraid of a stricter interpretation of national security in Macau, Sou acknowledged that he and the pro-democracy New Macau Association would be “a potential target.” Still, he said, “we will continue to do the same as we have always done before.”

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