Macao: revocation of foreign journalists’ licenses and challenges to the right to privacy

Published on 23 Jul 2022, 11:59 AM

Human Rights Committee considers the second periodic report of Macao

The Head of the Macao's delegation adressing the Human Rights Committee online

On 13, 14, and 15 July the Human Rights Committee went through the review of the second periodic report of Macao (China). The dialogue took place in hybrid format and addressed issues related to the National Security Law (NSL), criminalisation of defamation and the rights of migrant workers, refugees, and victims of human trafficking. The delegation of Macao highlighted the strengthening of their legal system with laws on preventing and combating domestic violence, on protection of children, and on sexual harassment. As for LGTBI+ rights, in the same line as Hong Kong, the delegation mentioned that legal recognition of transgender people remains a controversial topic in East Asian societies, which are deeply influenced by traditional values. The Committee questioned Macao on freedom of expression and the situation of foreign journalists in the SAR, and mentioned the lack of a comprehensive anti-discrimination law in Macao despite cultural diversity being a keystone of its lifestyle. Lastly, concerning the right to a private life, facial recognition technologies and cases of wiretapping by police authorities were also brought up. The nature of the dialogue was marked by the particularly succinct responses of the delegation and several questions asked by Committee members remained unanswered.

Freedom of expression of journalists and academic freedom

The Committee noted that journalists from the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and New York Times had their licenses revoked and asked about the resources victims might have for such violations. Macao replied that no journalist was ever unlawfully forbidden from entering the SAR, and only a few foreign journalists were not allowed to enter due to border control and national security, not because of violations of freedom of expression.

On freedom of academic expression, the Committee mentioned the cases of two university professors who were allegedly fired in an unfair manner. Macao stated that universities have autonomy in their internal affairs. Thus, university professors enjoy the freedom to get involved in academic and cultural activities so decisions to fire them were taken by universities without government interference

Right to privacy and extraditions

Another salient issue during the dialogue was the right to privacy in relation to the surveillance system Sky Eye, the public system of CCTV, and facial recognition technology used by police authorities. Covert surveillance, wiretapping instances, and videos taken by police officers during protests were also mentioned. The delegation replied that facial recognition technology was used following internal procedures, and that wiretapping and eavesdropping always took place with a legal permit from a judge. Moreover, legislation on personal data provides that Sky Eye recordings have to be automatically deleted after 60 days.

As for extraditions, the Committee asked whether there was an agreement or any prospects of an agreement between Macao and mainland China to regulate them. The case of a former Chinese official accused of corruption who was handed over to China despite having a Macao residence permit in 2015 was mentioned.

Watch again the dialogue with the Committee here.

Recommendations of the Human Rights Committee

Concluding Observations on Macao’s second periodic report were released on 27 July 2022. The State party is requested to provide, by 28 July 2025, information on the implementation of the following  recommendations:

Migrant workers

Macao, China should enhance the protection of migrant workers, especially migrant domestic workers, provide effective complaint mechanisms for reporting abuse and exploitation, including in relation to the excessive agency fees, and raise awareness about such mechanisms among migrant workers. It should also ensure that all cases of exploitation and abuse are thoroughly investigated and that perpetrators are prosecuted and, if found guilty, punished with appropriate sanctions and that victims have access to effective remedies.

Right to privacy

Macao, China should ensure that its regulations governing data retention and access, surveillance, including mass surveillance through the public CCTV system, and interception activities, including the draft wiretapping law, are in conformity with the Covenant, in particular its article 17, and ensure strict adherence to the principles of legality, proportionality and necessity. It should establish independent oversight mechanisms over the surveillance and interception activities to prevent abuses and ensure that any interference with the right to privacy requires prior authorization from a court, that all reports of abuse are thoroughly investigated, that such investigations, where warranted, lead to appropriate sanctions, and that victims have access to effective remedies.

Right of peaceful assembly

In accordance with article 21 of the Covenant and in light of the Committee’s general comment No 37 (2020) on the right of peaceful assembly, Macao, China should:

  • a) Bring all laws and practices governing peaceful assembly into full compliance with the Covenant and ensure that any restrictions imposed, including restrictions imposed under the Law No. 2/93/M, the Criminal Code and other public health-related regulations, comply with the strict requirements contained in the Covenant;
  • b) Review article 2 of Law No. 2/93/M and clarify the definition of “for purposes contrary to the law” with a view to preventing any arbitrary interpretations that can unduly restrict the right to freedom of assembly;
  • c) Ensure that the right to freedom of assembly is guaranteed for all persons within its jurisdiction, regardless of their nationality or residency status;
  • d) Develop and implement clear and publicly available guidelines to ensure that the use of recording devices by law enforcement officials during assemblies, including body-worn cameras, are consistent with international standards on privacy and do not have a chilling effect on participation in assemblies.

Here you can find all the recommendations given by the Committee in the Concluding Observations.

The follow-up report of Macao on the implementation of the recommendations is due in 2025 and the next periodic report is due in 2028. 

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