A voice to remember
The recently released photobiography of Carlos d’Assumpção – Um Homem de Valor by Celina Veiga de Oliveira, traces the legacy of one of the most important figures in Macau’s political life during the second half of the twentieth century. The trilingual publication (in Portuguese, Chinese and English) now makes his story accessible to all, 25 years after his death.
Carlos d’Assumpção was the uncontested leader of the Macanese community for several decades and, from his position as President of the Legislative Assembly, he left his mark on many of the laws that still structure the legal system of Macau today.
Despite falling victim to illness and subsequently passing away in 1992, he still made an important contribution to the drafting of the Basic Law of the Macau Special Administrative Region, which was approved and promulgated the following year and which embodies the fundamental rights of Macau residents - something Assumpção always defended. Always. Even when it was hard to do.
I found a good example of this in a lawsuit filed in the Macau court records. The case in question, which I called ‘the case of the century’ in a report published in the 1990s, was the result of the kidnapping in 1946 of the then-sole concessionaire of Macau gambling, Fu Tak Iam. After paying a large ransom and freeing the businessman, the police eventually arrested a former Kuomintang soldier, Lei Peng Su, accusing him of leading the gang of kidnappers. The Macau court sentenced him to 18 years in prison, a sentence which seem overly severe to some at the time.
An appeal against this conviction was lodged in 1954 in the Court of Appeal of Goa by the lawyer Carlos d’Assumpção, 25 years old at the time and at the beginning of his career.
He began his appeal arguments by stating that:
“The bleak lesson learned in the judgment of Lei Peng Su convinced the signatory lawyer, with only two years of forensic experience at the time, to decline sponsorship of any future criminal lawsuits”.
Why? Because it wasn’t worth it, according to his experience. The courts were reluctant to fully consider the circumstances surrounding the cases, and were always inclined to issue the harshest possible sentences – a situation that some lawyers in Macau believe still exists to this day.
“Without intending to offend anyone”, Mr. Assumpção added, “it must be confessed that rare are the lawyers of our country today who are not increasingly hurt by the sense of uselessness of their collaboration in pending cases in the Courts where the crimes are addressed.
“Consider the decisions made in recent times of trials of criminal cases and one understands with astonishment that the maximum penalties spring up like mushrooms in a damp, dark basement. Psychosis of condemnation? Condemnation postulate? Complex of greater penalty?”
Mr. Assumpção’s argument continued in this critical and irreverent tone - a very unusual thing at that time, given that Portugal and all its colonies were under a regime of political dictatorship that rarely tolerated dissent. By rebelling against the justice practiced at that time, Carlos d’Assumpção risked, at the very least, a great loss to his professional career. Yet he would still criticize vehemently what he saw as an inhumane application of the law in Macau courts.
It is this commitment to the defence of fundamental rights that is important to highlight today, at a time when these same values seem to be in crisis all over the world.
What does this have to do with living, our magazine and Macau’s lifestyle? Everything, believe me.