Legislators with conflicting views on non-resident absolute rights interpretation

Legislators expressed divergent opinions today (Friday) concerning the recent interpretation by local police authorities and Secretary for Security Wong Sio Chak that non-residents do not hold the same absolute rights as local residents, especially concerning the right to hold protests.

This week the Public Security Police Force (CPSP) has confirmed that on February 8 a non-resident worker from Myanmar inquired in a police station how he could apply for authorisation to hold a gathering on February 14 in the Three Lamps area to protest the recent military coup in his country.

However, the non-resident worker was informed by authorities that, by law, only residents could exercise the right to protest, with the CPSP arguing that non-advising holders of the ‘blue card’ to express opinions through their diplomatic representations.

Later in a reply to TDM Radio, Secretary Wong stated that Basic Law affirms the principle that non-resident people who are in the Macao SAR, and that the fundamental rights and duties provided for Macau residents should be recognized, but that this recognition is only a general principle and not absolute.

Inquired about this matter during the annual Legislative Assembly media Spring Luncheon, lawyer and legislator Vong Hin Fai stated he had the same interpretation as the Secretary.

“Under the Basic Law non-residents have the same rights allowed by law. I don’t see legislation establishing that non-residents can exercise the right [to protest],” Vong – who included the original committee that redacted and approved the Basic Law – told Macau News Agency.

Article 27 of the Macau Basic Law entails that “Macau residents enjoy the freedom of expression, press, edition, association, assembly, parade and demonstration, as well as the right and freedom to organize and participate in union associations and strikes” with Article 43 extending these rights to non-resident workers living in the city

Questioned on the exact definition of resident in the Basic Law, the AL President, Kou Hoi In, only stated that society needed to be heard concerning this definition and if an adjustment was needed.

Meanwhile, legislators Sulu Sou Ka Hou and Au Kam San expressed a different understanding that non-resident worker had enjoyed so far the same rights of protest as residents and questioned the reason for the new police interpretation of the matter.

“I disagree with the CPSP interpretation, non-resident workers have the same rights to gather and protest as residents. The Basic Law is pretty clear about this under Article 43, which extends these rights to anyone residing in Macau. They are barred only to take part in elections or vote,” legislator Au Kam San stated.

The veteran pro-democracy legislator considered the police interpretation was “new” and noted that when the assembly law was defined in 1993, all residents already had the right to protest.

“Before the handover, East Timor residents were allowed to protest,” Au Kam San noted, referring to the East Timorese fight for independence from Indonesia in the 1990’s.

This month the Public Prosecution’s Office closed a case against the daughters of legislator Au Kam San for a suspected illegal gathering on June 4 of last year, local after authorities prohibited the usual June 4 Tiananmen crackdown vigil at Senate Square organised by the legislator over pandemic health concerns.

Meanwhile, legislator Sulu Sou Ka Hou noted that under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights authorities can’t restrict the rights of assembly on the basis of nationality.

“The Macau SAR government should fulfil the international convention in accordance with the Basic Law,” the legislator noted.

The legislator also considered that in order to fulfil these requirements protest and gathering law would have to be modified, so as to clarify that non-residents enjoy the same rights of assembly, but questioned why this issue oni surfaced now.

“In the past 20 years, some non-residents have participated in demonstrations legally. Why the police had no comment about this until now? Non-resident workers have freedom of expression”