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Macao revises national security bill, calming public fears of losing speech freedom
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08:13, December 17, 2008

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The government of Macao Special Administrative Region (SAR) Tuesday announced the revised version of the government-drafted bill on national security after listening to public opinions on the matter during the bill's consultation period.

The Macao SAR government introduced to the public the draft bill on safeguarding the national security based upon the SAR's Basic Law Article 23 (BL23) on Oct. 22. To quell the public's fear over the highly sensitive legislation that it would lead to a government crackdown on speech freedom, the SAR's Chief Executive Ho Hau Wah personally hosted six consultation meetings in succession to explain the bill's content during the consultation period from Oct. 22 to Nov. 30.

According to the statistics from the SAR government, a total of657 pieces of individual views and 127 pieces of opinions from local organizations on the bill were collected respectively, of which 86.76 percent and 96. 85 percent support the legislation.

Based on the various public views collected, the SAR government revised the previously proposed draft bill on national security, which will be submitted to the SAR's Legislative Assembly for review and discussion, said Ho Hau Wah at a press conference held here on Tuesday.

According to a conclusion report on the matter released by the SAR government, the revision of the bill mainly focused on the legal term "preparatory acts", the transparency of the trial of the relevant crimes, the definition of "secret of state", and other legal technicalities concerning the clauses of the proposed bill.

The term "preparatory acts", also used in the existing Macao Penal Code, incriminates premeditated acts in which an individual has facilitated a criminal activity jeopardizing safety in the SAR.

Despite some doubts over the term's "unclear definition", the revised bill retains the penalty for "preparatory acts" toward crimes of treason, splitting the state, and subverting China's central government, but removes the penalty for "preparatory acts" toward the crimes of fomenting rebellion and theft of state secrets.

Meanwhile, a clause of the bill was also revised, stipulating that the legal proceedings concerning the crimes covered by the bill must be carried out publicly, said Florinda da Rosa Silva Chan, Secretary for Administration and Justice of the SAR, at the press conference.

However, she also pointed out that when the legal proceedings involve the theft of state secrets and if publicizing the proceedings will impair the interests of national security, the judge can make the decision of not carrying out the trial in public.

The definition of "secrets of state" is also re-specified with more details in the new version of the national security bill, clarifying that an object or information is defined as "secret of state" from the moment when it is generated, instead of being designated after it is acquired by the person in question.

Chan also dismissed public doubts about journalists' normal interviewing and reporting behaviors being accused of "spying" on state secrets under the proposed bill, saying only when these behaviors impair the interests of national security, which will require the judge to determine according to the actual situations of specific cases, the crime of theft of state secrets is constituted.

Under the SAR's BL23, Macao shall "enact laws on its own" to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People's Government, or theft of state secrets, to prohibit foreign political organizations or bodies from conducting activities that endanger national security in the Region, and to prohibit political organizations or bodies of the SAR from establishing ties with those foreign political organizations or bodies.

As for the clauses concerning local political organizations and groups, Chan said that the SAR government's stand on the matter is to protect their "common communications and contacts" with foreign organizations, which is also stated in the Basic Law.

Before Macao's return to China in 1999, the relevant legal clauses of the Portuguese Penal Code concerning national security applied in Macao, but after the establishment of the Macao SAR in the same year, these legal clauses were invalidated. The SAR's current criminal law only covers the security of the region itself.

According to the draft bill, which includes 15 clauses, the penalty for the state-security crimes will be based on the SAR' s current Penal Code, which means the maximum sentence for state- security crimes would amount to 25 years, but a person term of 30 years can still be meted out by the court if a person is convicted of state-security and other crimes combined.

Source: Xinhua

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