02/27/2009, 00.00
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Hong Kong concerned about Macau’s security legislation

Macau’s legislature approves vague anti-subversion and state secret law. Many fear the new law could be used against dissent and be a “model” for Hong Kong, which rejected a similar proposal in the past.
Macao (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Legislative Assembly of Macau adopted on Wednesday a controversial piece of legislation on national security that punishes treason, secession, subversion, anti-central government sedition and revealing state secrets with jail sentences ranging from 10 to 25 years. This is having chilling effects on Hong Kong democrats who fear their government might propose just such a law. A similar bill was killed in the former British overseas territory three years ago after important street protests.

The new law, which also bans foreign political organisations from conducting activities in the Special Administrative Region (SAR) in cooperation with local groups, has come in for harsh criticism because it does not define which actions constitute “subversion” or “sedition” and what a “state secret” is. The danger is that ordinary dissent might be criminalised.

Yet, despite the controversy, a third of the law’s clauses were passed by 24 votes to two and the rest, unanimously.

Outside Macau’s legislative building more than 100 residents (pictured) gathered to show their support for the law, which is designed to protect the “nation's security and dignity,” said rally organiser Si Keng-wai.

A 2008 survey by the Macau General Union of Neighbourhood Associations indicated that most Macau people were in favour of the law even though 65 per cent did not know the bill in any detail.  

Article 23 of the Macau’s Basic Law requires the local government pass legislation to protect national security, rather than have it imposed by Beijing.

Ho Heng-kuok, a union leader and former editor of a workers' newspaper, said that from now on he is going to be more careful in making public comments. Mr Ho has already been investigated by police over published criticism of a labour official.

But for Au Kam-san, one of the two lawmakers who voted against some clauses of the law on Wednesday, the enactment would have little effect since the authorities' control over society is already strong enough without the law. In his view the law was “made to set an example for Hong Kong.”

In fact article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law also calls for legislation to protect the country against crimes such as treason and subversion.

In 2003, an attempt to introduce a vaguely defined national security law in Hong Kong triggered a massive protest, and the bill was shelved.

For many in Hong Kong such a law is not necessary.

Civic Party lawmaker Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee said it was a sad day for Hong Kong.

“Inevitably, there will be greater pressure to revive Article 23 in Hong Kong,” she said.

Democratic Party Vice-Chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing said that it would not be surprising if the Hong Kong government were to follow given its obsequiousness vis-à-vis Beijing.

A Hong Kong government spokesman said that no such a law was being planned at this time, stressing that economic issues were more important.

He did say never the less that the Special Administrative Region has a “constitutional duty to enact laws in accordance with the Basic Law.”

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