Members of the Macau Lawyers Association guarantee that the fundamental rights of the residents continue to be respected. They recognise the difficulties involved in speaking Chinese in court, but maintain that the use of Portuguese as an official language presents more opportunities than obstacles
Three members of the Macau Lawyers Association made statements to PLATAFORMA during the Chief Executive’s visit to Portugal. Both Vong Hin Fai, president of the board, as well as Álvaro Rodrigues, member of the board, and Oriana Inácio Pun, secretary-general, argue that this visit “will strengthen the exchange and cooperation between Macau and Portugal”.
Vong Hin Fai hopes that the Executive can explain to Portugal the “success” of the “One Country, Two Systems” policy, which in his opinion has allowed “enormous progress” in the areas of social and economic development, “with successive improvements” for residents.
Álvaro Rodrigues, who arrived in Macau in the 1990s, “in the final stretch of the Portuguese administration,” looks back on the Sino-Portuguese Joint Declaration as “a treaty widely respected” by China and Portugal.
The agreement was established on April 13, 1987, and provides that after the transfer of sovereignty in 1999, rights, freedoms and guarantees would be maintained for a period of 50 years.
In the 23 years of existence of Macau’s Basic Law, he comments that China “has respected” the commitment with Portugal, although “with some incidents in between”.
“In Macau, fundamental freedoms continue to be respected and, if some rights have been restricted at one time on the basis of other fundamental rights, this also happens in western democratic societies, as happened in Portugal during the pandemic with the restriction of fundamental rights of freedom of movement between municipalities due to a public health issue,” he indicates.
He also said that “the basic principles that presided over the constitution of the MSAR are set out in the Basic Law, a law of the National People’s Assembly”, adding that “we cannot want everything to remain as it was before 1999 and the transition to be nothing more than the changing of one flag for another”.
Concerns about transition
Macau’s Chief Executive, Ho Iat Seng, gave assurances on Tuesday, on leaving for Portugal, that the agreement resulting from the transfer of sovereignty has been “scrupulously complied with” and that “there has been no change” in terms of respecting the Joint Declaration.
The Macau Legislative Assembly is discussing a revision of the National Security Law, which aims to punish crimes committed abroad, covering not only residents, migrant workers and tourists in Macau, but also foreigners.
Asked by journalists about the impact of this revision, Ho Iat Seng recalled that there had been no prosecutions under the current law, passed in 2009, which now included the crimes of treason, secession, sedition and subversion in the Penal Code. “Have you seen any impediment or restriction to human freedom?” he asked.
In an interview with Lusa, Portuguese lawyer Jorge Menezes, a Macau resident, said that China is not complying with the agreement, given the “violation of fundamental rights” of the residents.
MEP Isabel Santos also told Lusa that “in recent years there has been a progression towards increasingly limiting the rights and freedoms of citizens” of the Macau SAR.
In response, Ho Iat Seng said that the fact that a Macao resident can make such comments is “proof that Macao is a society endowed with freedoms”. Mr Rodrigues said that foreign residents in Macao “continue to be cherished and respected”.
And what has changed, “has changed for all” those who live and feel Macao.
“Not understanding the new reality that is lived in Macau is the beginning of the road to discontent and frustration”, assuring that there is respect for the independence of lawyers and judges.
Regarding the conduct of local authorities, he points out that “the protests are accepted and heard, opinions considered and mistakes are used to improve”. Although at the criminal level he identifies situations that “are sometimes far from the matrix that underpins our Law”, he defends that these cannot give rise to “generalisations and the assertion that the Basic Law has not been respected”.
Oriana Inácio Pun explains that when residents believe that their rights and liberties have been violated, they have mechanisms for reaction. “All this allows for the well-being of all Macau residents, including Macanese and foreigners residing here.”
Vong Hin Fai reinforces the point: “Residents enjoy various forms of protection in the exercise of their fundamental rights enshrined in the Basic Law, namely non-retroactivity of criminal law, presumption of innocence and access to law and justice. And, the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights applicable to Macao remain in force and are positively implemented through the laws of the Macao SAR.”
Two official languages is an advantage
Álvaro Rodrigues feels that the predominance of the Chinese language in the legal system is “the natural reflection of the evolution of a society with the characteristics of ours”. The lawyer regrets the “difficulties” that this presents, with some decisions only expressed in Chinese. However, he says the reverse is also true for his Chinese colleagues.
Pun says that as the majority of magistrates, court officials and citizens are Chinese-speaking, “it is natural that Chinese is used more” in the courts. However, “it does not mean that Portuguese is no longer used in judicial practice: trials continue to be held in both Chinese and Portuguese, and any lawyer can file applications or present documents in both languages.”
The lawyer believes that the use of Portuguese is “an advantage, not a barrier”, especially when talking about regional integration and Macau as a Sino-Lusophone platform. “We already have Chinese lawyers qualified as lawyers from the Greater Bay Area (…). As for Portuguese lawyers, in turn, they can practice (…) in the Greater Bay Area law firms in the capacity of foreign law consultant.”