A group of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists was denied entry to Macau on Wednesday shortly before Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived at the former Portuguese colony for a three-day visit.
Journalists from at least four Hong Kong news organisations have also been turned away as the special administrative region prepared to mark 20 years since its return to Chinese rule.
The celebrations come as neighbouring Hong Kong continues to be rocked by seven months of protests calling for democratic reform and accountability for the police’s handling of the crisis.
League of Social Democrats (LSD) activists – including “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, Raphael Wong, Bull Tsang, Avery Ng, Figo Chan and Koo Sze-yiu – told media that they were planning to travel to Macau to protest at celebrations, which Xi is expected to attend.
But the group was prevented from boarding a ferry to Macau on Wednesday, with crew saying that they were instructed to prevent them from embarking. The activists also said they were told by immigration officials that the Macau government had made it known that they were not welcome.
LSD activists showed reporters a letter from the Public Security Police Force of Macau, urging three transport companies to blacklist them from using their services.
“According to our intelligence, LSD members… are planning to travel from Hong Kong to Macau and damage the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the handover,” the letter read.
“Macau police are determined to prohibit them from entering Macau to conduct illegal activities. We request that your company cooperate by refusing to transport those persons to Macau, or bear the legal consequences.”
Leung condemned Macau authorities’ move as an act of intimidation towards businesses. The order restricted his freedom of movement and showed that Xi could not bear to face his critics, he added.
As the activists prepared for their trip at Shun Tak Centre on Wednesday morning, an unidentified man was filmed running up to the group and seizing their protest props, some of which displayed Xi’s face. The man attempted to run but was stopped and arrested by police shortly after.
Journalists denied entry
Separately, multiple Hong Kong journalists were barred from entering Macau on Tuesday and Wednesday – including some from RTHK, NowTV, Commercial Radio, TVB and the SCMP.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) has expressed regret over the entry denials, urging mainland China and Macau authorities to respect press freedom. In a statement, it also called on the Hong Kong government to ensure that people with Hong Kong travel documents can enter and exit Macau as normal.
“The HKJA stresses that journalists performing their duties enter [Macau] by normal procedures, and are not troublemakers. It is extremely regrettable that Macau has tightened its immigration policy and refused entry to Hong Kong journalists multiple times in recent years,” the statement read.
On Wednesday, reporters from RTHK, NowTV and Commercial Radio were refused entry to Macau despite having been granted official accreditation to cover the celebrations.
Macau authorities cited local laws on “internal security” as behind its decision and told the reporters they were stopped owing to strong indications they may “engage in activities endangering Macau’s public safety and public order.”
According to RTHK, another one of its journalists managed to get into Macau but had his phone checked by the police, which included going through his photos, social media, and chat history in messaging apps like WhatsApp.
Macau’s decision to turn away reporters has sparked backlash from the Hong Kong News Executives’ Association, as well as pro-democracy lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting.
NowTV, Commercial Radio and RTHK have issued separate statements expressing regret over the entry denial of their staff to Macau.
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