Sweet and Sour Sixteen

Paulo Coutinho

We mark 16 years of publication as the amended national security bill (NSL) enters formally into force.

The Law No. 8/2023 on Safeguarding of State Security amends the legislation first enacted in 2009, a decade after Macau returned to Chinese sovereignty, bringing significant changes to protect the sovereignty and political stability of the region.

Comparing the new bill with similar legislation in other jurisdictions, they share common objectives, but ours falls short in balancing security with civil liberties.

Right after the unanimous and final vote on the law at the Legislative Assembly plenary on May 18, the Association of Journalists of Macau (AJM), composed mostly of Chinese professionals, warned precisely of the ambiguity regarding that balance:

“With such a large gray area in the bill, press freedom in Macau will inevitably be affected, and we fear that self-censorship from news organizations may become even more severe,” the 100-strong AJM said, cited by Ponto Final.

Both national and local authorities dismiss these fears, offering reassurances the NSL will not affect civil rights and that the freedom of the press is here to stay.

The amended law, Safeguarding of State Security in Macau, focuses on secession, subversion against the political power of the state, sedition and violation of state secrets. It imposes severe penalties, including imprisonment, for those attempting to undermine sovereignty or disrupt the central political organs of the state. This reflects a strong commitment to preserving Macau’s political stability and national interests.

Also, it encompasses a wide range of offenses related to state security, including secession, subversion, and violation of state secrets, while the laws of United States, United Kingdom, and Portugal focus more specifically on espionage, treason and disclosure of classified information.

The Macau law imposes stringent penalties, including lengthy prison terms. The laws in the U.S., U.K., and Portugal also prescribe imprisonment, but the severity of the penalties may vary based on the specific offense and its impact on national security.

In the U.S. and U.K., the laws are designed to strike a balance between national security concerns and safeguarding civil liberties, such as freedom of speech and expression. In contrast, the laws of Macau and Portugal prioritize national security without explicit mention of that balance with civil liberties, raising concerns about the potential impact on individual rights.

Macau’s law explicitly addresses acts committed by organizations or associations outside the region, emphasizing collective legal responsibility of such entities. The U.S., U.K., and Portugal also have provisions to address offenses committed outside their territories, but the specific mechanisms may differ.

The Law on Safeguarding of State Security in Macau, along with similar laws in the United States, United Kingdom, and Portugal, aims to protect national security and maintain political stability. While they share common objectives, there are notable differences in scope, penalties and approaches to balancing security with civil liberties.

Macau Daily Times enters its 17th year with big challenges ahead – political and financial – but also with hope that we can continue doing our job for the gracious people of Macau who brought us this far and continue to play a role in the development of this international city.

Thank you for being there for us.

Categories Editorial