Macau Catholic academics among those sanctioned after critical commentaries

(Photo: REUTERS / Tyrone Siu)

A member of the New Macau Association holds a banner during a protest march demanding universal suffrage for Macau in front of the ruins of St. Paul's church in Macau July 26, 2009.

Three university professors in Macau have been sanctioned for airing commentaries critical of the local government and Beijing triggering concerns academic freedom in higher institutions of education.

Of the three professors two are from the Catholic University of Saint Joseph and a third from the public University of Macau.

They were dismissed or demoted earlier this month for what some of their supporters say was the expression of criticism against local government, ucanews reported.

French national Eric Sautedé, professor of political science at Saint Joseph, was dismissed from his post on July 11, according to a report by Églises d'Asie, which was carried by

His wife, Emilie Tran, who was a dean in the same university, was demoted to professor.

University of Macau officials also suspended another professor of political science, Bill Kwok-ping Chou, for 24 days without pay.

Sautedé is a regular columnist for the Macau Daily Times, writing about government policy and the region's relationship with mainland China. His past columns touched controversial subjects while some pieces were critical of Macau's chief executive, Fernando Chui Sai-on.

University rector Father Peter Stilwell told a Portuguese language newspaper in the region that the institution he represented adhered to church teaching on not meddling with local political dynamics.

But that should not stop an academic from studying a subject such as political science, despite its sensitivities and the challenges it presents, he noted.

"It is possible to study different political systems and the Basic Law [in Macau] without interfering in the affairs of the present government," Stilwell was quoted as saying.

"The line is thin and difficult to draw between what is political commentary and what belongs to academic commentary."

Tran, the wife of Sautedé, declined comment on her demotion. She had been researching on the transformation of the Chinese Communist Party as well as the gaming industry in the region.

Chou, a professor at University of Macau since 2002, has advocated universal suffrage.

Sautedé said it appeared there were some people who went overboard just to please their superiors.

He added that their predicament opens the door to legal challenges in the future, considering that his dismissal ran contrary against Macau's Basic Law.

Macau is a former Portuguese colony near Hong Kong and is a special administrative region in China

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