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US report on human rights irks Macau

Macau authorities muzzle freedom of the press and peaceful assembly among other things, the report says

Macau residents line up to vote in the Legislative Assembly election on Sept. 12, 2021. A latest report from the US Department of State has accused Macau of violating human rights

Macau residents line up to vote in the Legislative Assembly election on Sept. 12, 2021. A latest report from the US Department of State has accused Macau of violating human rights. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 23, 2023 12:02 PM GMT

Updated: March 23, 2023 12:04 PM GMT

The Macau authorities have lashed out at the United States for a report on the violation of human rights as “baseless” and alleged that it downplayed positive developments in the Chinese-ruled territory.

In a press statement, Macau authorities said the “2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” released by the U.S. Department of State had “hidden motives,” Portuguese daily Hoje Macau reported on March 21.

The annual report, published on March 20, alleged significant human rights issues including “serious restrictions on journalists’ freedom to conduct newsgathering; substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly; the inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections” in Macau Special Administrative Region among other things. 

The Macau government reacted quickly and alleged that “the self-styled [US] report has an axe to grind, and contains baseless commentary, smearing the actual human-rights conditions in Macau.”

The statement further reiterated that the territory is showing progress across the board and “the historic development achievements in Macau cannot be discredited.”

The US report highlighted the censorship and content restrictions placed by the Macau authorities on press and other media including online ones.

“There were reports of increased censorship, especially on topics related to the SAR’s authorities, China, and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre,” the report said.

The UN report also alleged that the senior government officials engaged in urging the press to exhibit their patriotism through “love of the motherland and love of Macau.”

The report pointed out the closure of the pro-democracy website of Macau Concealer which regularly published satirical news citing a worsened political landscape and budgetary constraints in 2021.

The report also alleged the Macau officials “guiding” journalists on the direction of questions in advance of a regular pandemic press conference.

The Macau officials repeatedly interrupted the reporters and snatched the microphone away from them during the press conference, the report said.

The US report also pointed out the restrictions placed by the Macau authorities on the freedom of peaceful assembly in the region.

“Civil rights advocates criticized the apparently arbitrary rules for restricting peaceful assembly,” the report said.

The report pointed out the cancellation of the June 4 Tiananmen Vigil organized by the Union for Democratic Development, represented by former lawmakers Sunny Au and Antonio Ng over the fear of prosecution.

Reportedly, it is the first time since 1990 that there was no public or virtual candlelight vigil organized in memory of the protest in Macau. Similar vigils were canceled in politically troubled Hong Kong.

Another key area that the report highlighted was the lack of freedom to participate in the political process wherein residents did not have the opportunity to select representatives whom they liked.

“The law limits voters’ ability to change their government through free and fair periodic elections because there was no universal suffrage in elections for most elected positions,” the report said.

The report also highlighted the oath of allegiance that an elected representative must take before coming into power once elected.

The Macau government in its statement refuted the US allegations of any foul play in terms of citizen freedom and reiterated its aim to achieve development goals in collaboration with mainland China.

“The MSAR Government is dedicated to law-based governance and has joined hands with Macao residents in order to realize leapfrog development in social and economic matters,” the statement said.

“With strong support from the Central Government, the MSAR will continue to give full play to the city’s advantages, integrate intensively into overall national development, and contribute fresh achievements for the successful and steady implementation of the ‘One country, two systems’ principle,” the statement read.

A former Portuguese colony, Macau has an estimated population of 700,000 including about 30,000 Catholics.

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