As new civil protection legislation came into force today (Tuesday), the Office of the Secretary for Security issued an announcement underlining that freedom of expression will be respected during the application of the new law.
During the public debate surrounding the new legislation, one of the most contentious issues surrounded the criminalization of the deliberate production and dissemination of rumours with the intention of causing public unrest, as long as a state of calamity warning has been raised, due to sudden incidents of a public nature.
After concern was expressed by local associations and political groups over possible limitations to local freedom of expression and freedom of the press, changes were effected to the legislation in order to better define intent when defining this crime.
In its announcement today, the Office of the Secretary for Security highlighted that the new crime was created to ensure that civil protection operations in charge of the authorities are not impacted while preventing public panic, and maintain order in society during a disaster.
However, the Office noted that the final law had been produced and improved “through public participation and continuous listening of public opinion.”
“In the future, the authorities will constantly improve transmission channels and dissemination measures to ensure the effective dissemination of information related to civil protection, in addition to dynamically developing education and training actions related to the implementation of the statutory legal regime, ensuring its strict compliance and the punishment of those who violate it”, the Office added.
“All of this, without impacting the maximum respect for people’s freedom of expression, even in a context of non-neglect, to safeguard public security and order, as well as the tranquillity of society.”
The new law also introduces a series of new measures of an exceptional nature, namely, forced evacuation, the determination of priority telecommunications operators in the free dissemination and protection of civil information, and the closure of determined border posts.
In case of a prolonged public incident, powers will also be attributed to the Chief Executive to declare the suspension of public activities in the affected places, such as entertainment or gaming activities.
The law also created an accreditation and registration system for volunteers assisting the Unitary Police Service (SPU), who will be considered as external assistants to the civil protection system of Macau.
A clarification session was held today by Secretary for Security Wong Sio Chak and the SPU General Commander, Leong Man Cheong, with several members of the local civil protection system to discuss the restructuring caused by the new legislation.
During the meeting, Secretary Wong – who will be the main civil protection coordinator – stressed that the civil protection reform work “was not easy”, and that the results obtained so far were the results of a lot of efforts made by the members of the civil protection structure, but collaboration was needed to ensure the execution of the regime in a “pragmatic and permanent way.”