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Macau Bill Seen as Threat to Religious Freedom

Catholic Youth Fear Internet Censorship

PARIS, DEC. 11, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Catholics in Macau are concerned that a national security bill will limit their freedom of religion and speech, reports a French foreign mission agency.

Eglises d’Asie, agency of the foreign missions of Paris, affirmed that the Macau government proposed a bill outlawing acts that are injurious to “the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity or national security” of the People’s Republic of China.

The list of criminal acts includes seven categories: treason, secession, subversion, sedition, theft of state secrets, and membership or contact with political groups or organizations in Macau or abroad “which endanger national security.”

The text designates prison terms of between one and 20 years, depending on the “gravity of the crime.”

Catholic responses

Last Oct. 22, Macau’s chief executive, Edmund Ho Hau Wah, said that this law “was necessary and filled a legal vacuum from Portugal’s transfer of Macau to China.” The chief executive added that he hoped that the law would be approved by the local Parliament in 2009.

On Nov. 15, the Catholic weekly, The Observatory of Macau, organized a meeting in the diocese’s center to debate the bill. Participants expressed their concern that this text is a potential limitation of liberties.

Antonio Ng Kuok-cheong, a Catholic member of the local Parliament and president and founder of the civil movement New Democratic Macau Association, stated that the government’s 40-day period of public consultation is “notoriously insufficient” and should be prolonged. He added that the text of the bill should include a clause in support of the “defense of public interest,” which may in certain cases be opposed to the threats designated as “attempts against national security.”

According to Catholic lawyer Paulino Commandante, the bill is “imprecise.” For example, the concept of a “state secret” is not clearly defined.

“If the criminal character of an act is defined by the authorities after the act was committed, individual liberties are in great danger,” said the lawyer. He expressed concern that Macau’s Catholics now could be considered delinquents “simply by being in contact with ‘clandestine’ communities of the Catholic Church in China.”

Chio Chu-Ching, the secretary general of the center for youth pastoral care of the diocese, asserted that young people, who frequently discuss social problems over the internet, “fear that their comments in forums might be watched and that they might be accused afterward of infringing the law on national security.” She predicted that young people will see their freedom of expression curtailed, which will lead to a complete lack of interest in politics.

Legislative history

After being handed over from Portugal to the People’s Republic of China in 1999, the “Special Administrative Region” of Macau has enjoyed, like Hong Kong, a specific regime according to the principle “one country, two systems.”

The Basic Law of Macau, along with the Sino-Portuguese Joint Declaration, specified a high degree of autonomy for Macau for a period of 50 years after the transfer, in which it retains its own legal system, police force, immigration policy and delegates to international events. The Chinese government maintains the defense of the territory and its foreign affairs.

Meanwhile in China, the government permits religious practice only with recognized personnel and in places registered with the Religious Affairs Office and under the control of the Patriotic Association.

Though Chinese bishops were unable to attain permission from their government to attend October’s synod in Rome, Macau sent Bishop José Lai Hung-seng.

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