HONG KONG – A popular Hong Kong singer and pro-democracy activist will not be allowed to perform at one of the city’s top theaters later this month, in an indication that a crackdown by authorities on dissent is reaching the entertainment and cultural sphere.
The Hong Kong Arts Centre cited a public safety clause in canceling Denise Ho's venue reservations for her concerts, according to a statement posted Wednesday on Facebook by the singer's company, Goomusic.
Separately, a court sentenced seven pro-democracy activists to between 11 and 16 months in jail for an unauthorized assembly during anti-government protests in 2019.
The cancellation of Ho's concerts came days after pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao accused her of being “anti-China” due to her involvement in the 2019 pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. Ho is an outspoken activist who joined in widespread protests in 2014 and again in 2019 that sought to protect Hong Kong's longstanding civil liberties from mainland Chinese interference.
“We can’t help but ask how the Hong Kong Arts Centre, as an independent institution supporting contemporary art which has been operating for 44 years, can now arbitrarily suspend contracts without substantive evidence?” Goomusic said.
The Hong Kong Arts Centre did not respond to an email request for comment.
Ho's sold-out concerts were slated for Sept. 8 to 12.
The cancellation has fed concerns that Hong Kong's flourishing cultural scene, which in the past was known for its freedom of expression, is the latest target as Beijing tightens its control over the city.
Hong Kong authorities have over the past year arrested dozens of pro-democracy activists and pushed through electoral reforms that would reduce the number of directly elected legislators in the city.
The seven sentenced activists had pleaded guilty to charges including organizing and inciting others to take part in the unauthorized assembly on Oct. 20, 2019. They included lawyer Albert Ho and Figo Chan, leader of the disbanded Civil Human Rights Front.
Of the seven, only one — Raphael Wong of the League of Social Democrats political party — was not already serving jail time. The other six had been convicted earlier in relation to other unauthorized assemblies.
Critics have accused Beijing and Hong Kong authorities of limiting freedoms promised to the city when it was handed over by the British to mainland China in 1997.
According to Goomusic, the Hong Kong Arts Centre canceled the reservation under a clause stating that it could terminate the booking of a venue if the person renting the venue fails to observe the terms and conditions in circumstances where “public order or public safety would be endangered.”
Ho's company said the Hong Kong Arts Centre had told Goomusic representatives that it was “bound to observe closely the recent developments in society.”
Ho’s company said it would refund ticket buyers and that the singer will livestream her concert instead on Sept. 12.
“We may face constraints in performance venues, but the stage itself is not limited by boundaries,” Goomusic said.
The cancellation came days after Hong Kong film director Kiwi Chow was fined 5,000 Hong Kong dollars ($640) for allegedly flouting coronavirus restrictions during a private movie screening.
Chow, who directed the films “Ten Years” and “Revolution of our Times” about the city’s democracy movement, held a private screening of his film “Beyond the Dream” last week.
Authorities raided the screening and accused attendees of flouting social-distancing rules, since public gatherings in Hong Kong are currently limited to four people.
Chow said the private screening was limited to friends only, saying on a local radio program that he would not pay the fine and would take the case to court instead. The city’s social-distancing restrictions do not apply to private gatherings.